NEW LINE/Color/1.85/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/100 Mins./Rated R
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall, Alison Elliot, Arliss Howard, Anne Heche, Peter Stormare, Ted Levine, Cara Seymour, Novella Nelson, Zoe Caldwell, Milo Addica, Michael Desautels.
Credits: Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Written by Jean-Claude Carriere, Milo Addica, Glazer. Produced by Jean-Louis Piel, Nick Morris, Lizie Gower. Director of photography: Harris Savides. Production designer: Kevin Thompson. Edited by Sam Sneade, Claus Wehlisch. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Costume designer: John Dunn. Executive producers: Kerry Orent, Mark Ordesky, Xavier Marchand. A Lou Yi/Academy production, presented in association with Fine Line Features.
With Birth, Jonathan Glazer pulls off a Soderbergh, delivering a sophomore effort that suggests very little of the stunning debut that preceded it. Glazer takes a decidedly European approach to his material (including his screenwriting collaboration with the legendary Jean-Claude Carriere) as he fashions a kind of Sixth Sense meets Interiors meets all manner of foreign-film mannerisms. The movie’s slow pacing, camera placement, structure and soundtrack recall many a film caught and forgotten at festivals.
Birth kicks off with a fragmented set-up as a succession of shots deliver a number of seemingly unrelated events. There's a lovely sequence of a figure serenely jogging through a very snowy Central Park, then collapsing in a tunnel. There's a birth, then a title reading “ten years later.” We see a kid named Sean (Cameron Bright) sitting silently in the cavernous lobby of an elegant Manhattan apartment building as a couple, Clara (Anne Heche) and Clifford (Peter Stormare), awkwardly wait nearby for an elevator.
Clara suddenly excuses herself, goes to Central Park and digs in the ground. Upstairs in the spacious apartment of materfamilias Eleanor (Lauren Bacall), a party is underway. Joseph (Danny Huston) is celebrating his engagement to Anne (Nicole Kidman), Eleanor's daughter. Anne's sister Laura (Alison Elliot) and her husband Bob (Arliss Howard) are among the celebrants.
The engagement is especially important because a decade ago, Anne's husband Sean died suddenly while jogging and she's finally ready to remarry. But big problems arise when little Sean crashes the party; he persuasively insists he is Anne's long-gone husband and proclaims his love for her.
The family rallies in an attempt to find out what this kid is all about. Anne, unfortunately, begins to believe that Sean is indeed her late husband. Her regal mom sloughs off the incident with familiar Bacallian hauteur, but Joseph doesn't take well to this new complication. He goes after Sean and gives him a good spanking.
Birth, which has Kidman's Anne held in close up for so long it would have given Warhol pleasure, is truly odd. Its cold take on upper-crust New Yorkers in their classic but colorless environs only adds to the overall alienation. Worse, the film hardly has a frame of truth in it. Even a scene with Anne and little Sean sitting naked in a tub fails to stir. The picture isn't scary or convincingly dramatic and is thoroughly devoid of humor or irony. And where is the insight into character that might have enriched the story?
Happily, there is some suspense: Who the dickens is little Sean? And there's a little twist at the end that goes beyond the ho-hum. But it will be after Birth when surely the director of the brilliant Sexy Beast will again deliver.