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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.33%
Worth A Look: 17.33%
Average: 13.33%
Pretty Bad: 21.33%
Total Crap34.67%

5 reviews, 45 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Imagine someone shoving 'Ghost' into the middle of 'Eyes Wide Shut'"
2 stars

Over the years, I have seen countless movies in which two romantic rivals get into a fight over the woman that they both love. However, “Birth” is the first one that I can recall where such a scene ended with one actually spanking the other. While that may be the most demented touch on display, it is by no means the only one because “Birth” plays like a challenge to the filmmakers to take one of the more deranged plot ideas in recent memory and tell it in the most alienating manner possible. The result is one of those films that is so strangely, off-the-wall awful that collectors of such things may well have a blast watching it-and even they may find it a little too much to handle.

The film opens with an unseen man delivering a lecture in which he scoffs at such notions as reincarnation, life-after-death and the like. Apparently, the Supreme Being is in her Angry God mode that day and strikes the naysayer dead while jogging. Ten years later, the man’s grieving widow Anna (Nicole Kidman) finally decides it is time to move on and agrees to marry her long-suffering boyfriend. (Danny Huston, in a role that would have once been called the “Ralph Bellamy part”-though I suspect that even Ralph Bellamy would have endured endless studio suspensions to avoid this film if he were offered it.) While celebrating her engagement with her family, the party is crashed by Sean (Cameron Bright), a 10-year-old boy who matter-of-factly announces to Anna that he is her husband and that she can’t marry Ralph Bellamy.

Of course, the very notion of such a thing is preposterous and Anna is at first convinced that someone is playing a monstrous joke on her. However, it soon becomes evident that Sean seems to know everything about her life with Sean V.1-he knows who told her there was no Santa Claus, he knows who was the best man at their weddings and he even knows about the time that the two of them expressed their love physically on her sister’s couch. While Anna’s relatives remain suspicious (though not suspicious enough to prevent the kid from having the run of their apartment) and fear for her sanity, she finds herself almost giddy with delight at the notion of having the great love of her life, the one so cruelly taken from her, restored to her after all of this time. Before long, she is spending more and more time with the boy and it becomes clear that her notions of “playdates” are about to take on a whole new meaning. (Of course, if someone proposed the same story with a gender reversal-an older man and a 10-year-old girl-such a premise would never get off the ground and those responsible would either be beaten with sticks or offered a co-headlining tour with Jay-Z.)

Is the kid really the reincarnation of Sean? Is he simply a deluded young boy? Is he the pawn in some cruel game against Anna or are there more mysterious forces at work? I assume that anyone going to see “Birth” will no doubt expect at least some definitive answer as to what is going on-it doesn’t even have to make much sense as long as it remains consistent with the rest of the film. Perhaps the most enraging thing about the film is that it never manages to figure out the conclusion to its own story. Instead, it comes up with a whole bunch of different endings-of which at least a couple seem to contradict each other-in the hopes that by giving viewers an assortment of explanations, they won’t notice that they haven’t been given an actual one. For anyone who has invested time and energy into watching “Birth” to that point, the final scenes are simply enraging.

On the other hand, that kind of confusion reigns supreme throughout the film. The premise of the film could, depending on who was making it, easily be turned into a horror film, a gooey romance, a twisty thriller, a poignant drama or even a dark comedy. Instead of choosing one, though, director Jonathan Glazer (who seemed to have a promising career ahead of him after his debut with 2001’s “Sexy Beast”) seems to have randomly decided to utilize all of them at various points throughout and the wild changes in tone from scene to scene (perhaps as a result of rumored reshoots) serve as a constant jarring reminder to viewers just how fundamentally unsound the entire conceit of the film is. To confuse matters even further, Glazer and cinematographer Harris Savides have decided to shoot the entire thing in the cool, reserved tones of a Stanley Kubrick film. Seeing as how Kubrick’s films were among the most beautiful-looking ever made, this is not an inherently bad idea (and the cinematography here, taken on its own terms, is quite striking) but it calls so much attention to itself that it winds up weighing down a film that needs to be as nimble as possible if it is to succeed at all. (Imagine what “Ghost” might have been like if it had been dropped smack into the middle of “Eyes Wide Shut” and you get the general idea.)

There is another film coming out in the next few weeks entitled “P.S.” that has roughly the same premise as “Birth”-a lonely woman encounters a much-younger man who just might be the reincarnation of the lover that died many years ago. “P.S.” has its problems but in that case, the premise is halfway believable because the performances by Laura Linney and Topher Grace are strong and focused enough that they actually manage to make the story seem convincing. In “Birth”, there is never that sense of reality in the performances and, as a result, the goings-on just seem absurd. While generally a talented actress, there was never a single moment where I believed that Nicole Kidman was so desperate to regain her past love that she could convince herself that he has returned and would actually contemplate a relationship that even Demi Moore might find a bit much. Making this even more difficult to accept is the presence of Cameron Bright as the boy. For some peculiar reason, he has been directed to look and act like a malevolent refugee from one of the innumerable “Omen” rip-offs that came out in the 1970’s-it is hard to really get into the lost-love aspect of the story when it involves a kid who looks like he is about to make someone’s eyeballs bleed by using his supernatural powers. Frankly, the only performance I believed was the one by Lauren Bacall, who portrays Kidman’s cantankerous mother. The performance itself isn’t that good (it makes her similar work in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” look subtle and nuanced by comparison) but her no-bullshit attitude winds up cutting through the other nonsense and she winds up stealing her scenes by default by saying the things that the increasingly incredulous audience has been thinking.

Final note. Much has been written, mostly by people who haven’t seen the film (an excellent suggestion, by the way), about a scene in which Nicole Kidman and Cameron Bright are seen taking a bath together. Despite the rumors, there is nothing particularly salacious about the scene and, like so much of the rest of the film, not much actually happens. However, I will confess that one thought did cross my mind while watchingit-that kid has got to have the best agent in the world.

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originally posted: 11/22/04 15:48:04
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User Comments

11/01/14 David Hollingsworth provocative and challenging 5 stars
2/11/14 Charles Tatum Unsettling and beautiful to look at. 5 stars
7/06/09 art a TEMPEST IN A TEACUP! 1 stars
6/22/09 Beefsolver A yawning chasm of failure. 5 stars
10/31/07 Abe Craaaaap-o-la!! 1 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann Hilariously pretentious.Highbrow aspirations, street gutter results! 1 stars
5/01/07 gg Incredibly beautiful, dreamlike movie. Kidman's greatest performance. 5 stars
11/21/06 Alex Electrifying. Hauntingly beautiful. Nicole Kidman is truly a great actress. I loved movie 5 stars
8/23/06 barb what a total waste of my time! 1 stars
6/27/06 chienne another Kidman ballsup. God she's done some tripe - this is about the best 1 stars
3/09/06 mark this film was the most boring,badly acted,unbelievable pile of drivel i have ever seen. 1 stars
2/17/06 Alice Was ok, had good acting 4 stars
11/06/05 stephanie fuller characters' reactions to the situation were completely unbelievable and unrealistic. 1 stars
7/14/05 Monster W. Kung Got any doubt about Ebert's mental problems? He gave this 3.5 out of 4... 1 stars
7/07/05 Elizabeth Blackey Too slow. I would have said total crap except for Bright's performace - convincing. 2 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands Brilliant: Musical score, opening scene, Kidman's symphony closeup. Lame: Everything else. 4 stars
6/01/05 Michael Boring. 100 minutes of my life that I'll never get back. 1 stars
5/30/05 Ellie Since when is slow a bad thing? Gorgeous - a thinker. 5 stars
5/23/05 jasmine kennedy This movie is for an audience that thinks outside the box otherwise you wont get it. 4 stars
5/21/05 Ed Tuttle Held my attention all the way. Subtle tactics in addressing a touchy and deep subject:death 4 stars
5/19/05 John Bale A finely crafted enigmatic film that keeps you guessing and is beautiful to watch 5 stars
5/02/05 Teri STUPID 1 stars
4/30/05 Helen Bradley Kidman tried but very slow pace, not a thriller, boring 1 stars
4/26/05 Walt Kolander Too many draggy dead spots 2 stars
4/23/05 Jeff Anderson A disappointing film that goes nowhere. Kidman & Bright's brave & terrific acting SAVE IT!! 3 stars
4/10/05 Kristan anderson Very Slow.Story flows poorly and makes no sense. But, interesting. 3 stars
4/05/05 rags rolf junk 1 stars
2/05/05 Sierra Not a fan of Kidman, should not have bothered with this horrid garbage 1 stars
1/12/05 Danielle R. This movie was very good. Really creepy and thought-provoking. Kidman was stellar. 5 stars
1/09/05 this is a terrible ass movie Cameron Bright is a talentless piece of goddamn shit. Fuckin christ..please shoot him 1 stars
11/23/04 Kristina Williams Nicole Kidman is one of my favorites, but this was just bad. 1 stars
11/20/04 Mario Morales Excellent intense film not to be seen at home on DVD; Kidman's eyes are everthing 4 stars
11/16/04 Sophia Pretty Awful movie I must say. And I 'm a huge fan of Nicole Kidman. 1 stars
11/16/04 A F Good opening sequence though. 1 stars
11/15/04 Alex This was a brilliant film, original and moving. 5 stars
11/14/04 Nadia Not bad. . .well except for the ending. 4 stars
11/14/04 Grendel Dreadful, unbelievable nonsense, end titles were very welcome 1 stars
11/13/04 Naka Difficult premise, but someone w/ skill coulda done it. Not these jackasses. 1 stars
11/05/04 Mereyana we were hoodwinked...perported 2 b what it wasn't 2 stars
11/03/04 Stevo I liked the creepiness, but wouldn't recommend it to my Mom 4 stars
11/02/04 Mariah Montgomery Beautiful and effective. 5 stars
10/31/04 MovieMikeKC By far the worst movie I have seen in years. Forced artsy-fartsy crap ! 1 stars
10/23/04 Ray Regular 3 stars
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  29-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 19-Apr-2005

  05-Nov-2004 (15)

  28-Apr-2005 (MA)

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