Birth (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Wow! From the first second, a man is jogging in the park and we’re following him, to the final fadeout, this captured and held my interest. I was going to make a phone call and leave for a few minutes, but couldn’t, so riveted was I.

The jogger we’re following drops dead in an underpass in the park. Ten years later ten year old Sean (Cameron Bright) sneaks into Eleanor’s (Lauren Bacall) birthday party. He asks to speak with Eleanor’s daughter, Anna (Nicole Kidman), who is engaged to Joseph (Danny Huston), privately. When he gets her alone, he tells her he’s Sean, which was the name of the jogger, who was Anna’s husband.

That might sound a little hard to believe, but Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, 2000) brilliantly weaves this into a tale that’s so compelling I couldn’t leave for an instant. How good it is was epitomized by one scene where Anna is at a concert with Joseph. Glazer zeroes in on a head shot of Anna and lingers there for at least two minutes. Normally a shot like this would have me squirming and looking at my watch after around ten seconds. But this one didn’t. I was mesmerized.

Some scenes have an ambience that captures you. I’ll never be able to forget the scene in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) in which Joel McCrea is investigating an old windmill. Hitchcock constructed the scene so masterfully that the creaky windmill was as sinister as any character in the movie. The scene captivates the viewer.

Glazer has achieved the same effect but it continues throughout the entire movie. There’s a mysterious, hypnotic quality to the atmosphere of the film that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Often actors are rewarded for films that don’t deserve it and ignored for films that do.  While I didn’t think Kidman deserved a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Virginia Woolf (a role with so few lines that it shouldn’t have qualified for anything more than Best Supporting Actress category) in The Hours (2002), she was phenomenal in Malice (1993) with Alec Baldwin, a thriller I thought enormously effective, but which came and went almost without a ripple. Here, in Birth, she gives a remarkable performance. But what makes the film work is young Cameron Bright who has to make us believe that he really might be Anna’s Sean. The entire film depends on him and he delivers in spades.

I saw this in a theater with a regular audience, who laughed in inappropriate spots. It seemed to me the laughter was caused by an immature inability to deal with a difficult theme. It certainly wasn’t laughter at anything funny happening on the screen. My advice; pick a theater in an area populated by people of better than average intelligence and maturity who can deal with incommodious themes without embarrassment.

Like Malice the audience isn’t sure what’s going on, but it’s swept up in the mystery. Glazer starts right out with the story with no titles. The man is jogging; we’re on the voyage with him and no titles are going to interrupt us. This is the craft of filmmaking at its zenith.

November 6, 2004

The End