Friday, December 08, 2006

TRH Movie - The Painted Veil

I skipped my very last dance class for the term yesterday to go see a preview screening of The Painted Veil, Ed Norton's latest movie, but with very good reason, because the actor/producer was actually in attendance for a Q&A session at the end.

First, the film. Based on a W. Somerset Maugham novella, The Painted Veil takes place, for the most part, in China, where a young doctor (or bacteriologist), Walter Fane (Ed Norton) who is researching infectious diseases and his new wife, Kitty (Naomi Watts). Married after a refreshingly brief courtship that takes place in about two days, the couple finds themselves in an awkward and difficult situation when Kitty begins, and ends, an affair with the Vice-Consul, Charlie Townsend (Liev Shreiber). As a form of punishment, Walter forces Kitty to travel inland to a small village heartbreakingly infected with the worst cholera outbreak in history. Here, in the small village, the two reach an impasse of sorts, where they may not solve all of the problems of their marriage, but they do certainly find an honesty where they communicate openly at long last.

It's a long movie, with beautiful scenery, and much better than the last thing I saw that was filmed in China, some terrible "rock" video by 30 Seconds to Mars. The Painted Veil is directed by John Curran, who also helmed We Don't Live Here Anymore, so he's certainly adept at creating a story that explores the moral ambiguity at the centre of so many human experiences. A sweeping tale that balances out the interior emotional struggles of Walter and Kitty with the more overarching socio-political problems found in China (the rise of the "nationalists," the fury over British imperialism, and the presence of Catholic missionaries), The Painted Veil is an epic film, one that demands a commitment from its audience, but absolutely rewards you for putting in the effort.

And it must be stated that Toby Jones, who plays Waddington, a left-over soldier stationed in the small village affected by the epidemic, is wonderful. And I can understand why Naomi Watts became so involved in the picture (she's a co-producer alongside Norton), because it's quite a juicy part for a woman in a world where the "heroines" are getting younger and younger in films that are more and more vapid.

Now, the actor. So, at the end of the screening, Richard Crouse came back out to introduce Ed Norton and then do a quasi-Inside the Actor's Studio-type question and answer period. Norton came into the theatre wearing jeans and a lovely dark grey pea coat, which he wore through the entire interview. Part way through he wrapped it even further around himself and hugged his arms in tight like he was maybe a bit unsure of himself and a little nervous, which I didn't expect.

He's quite unassuming in person except totally handsome and very clean cut, and he used a lot of big words (etymology, for example) and made cute metaphors ("the characters in the film were exfoliated by China") and came across super smart and well read, another thing I didn't expect. He also sounds American when he talks, says Montreal like Mont-re-all, and things like "you all know Ron Livingston, right" in that particular cadence to people like my American "cousins" who all hail from Pennsylvania and such. He looks, well, like a New Yorker, put a toque on him and he could be Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me, but I digress.

I was such a geek that I took notes about some of the more charming things he said about the movie and his career, just to relay them here:

On Working on The Score with De Niro and Brando:

"It's a movie I did just to be in the poster."

And the kid that asked the question told Norton he was a Method actor ("What's it like to be a third generation Method Actor"), to which he responded by saying, "That's the first I'm hearing about being a Method Actor." The kid (a theatre/film student in a pack of theatre/film students sitting beside me and rambling on about how great Death to Smoochy was) said that he read it on the internet, which, of course, cued all clap-trap snark about how unreliable information is on the web. Which almost made me want to stand up and ask whether or not the rumours are true that he's dating Evan Rachel Wood. But, alas, I am a meek writer who prefers to spread her own rumours online. Annnywaay. He did joke that he could learn a lot about himself by reading the internet. Can't we all Ed Norton, can't we all.

About the costume and makeup from The Illusionist:

It's actually inspired by a comic Dr. Strange. After I told my RRHB this he said, "Oh yeah, totally, there was even a Canadian TV show about Dr. Strange for a while." Who knew?

On the characterization in The Painted Veil:

"We had to commit to the character's weaknesses in order to make it real." I am paraphrasing a bit here but I really liked this idea. In order for the movie to work, Norton said, he and Watts concentrated more on the character flaws rather than their strong points, and he's absolutely right, it's what makes the movie work. You do believe that Walter is a bad lover (his example) and that Kitty is vain and silly, which makes their evolution so much more real.

Further, on the love story in The Painted Veil:

Norton is attracted to projects that take him outside of his own comfort zone, but I couldn't help reading so much more into this statement than was probably intended, "everyone goes through disappointments in seeing the weaknesses in the object of their affection," but maybe something like this comes more from his own failed relationships in general vs. empathizing with Walter's inability to make his marriage work in many ways.

About working on the 25th Hour:

(Which I will preface by saying I think is one of my favourite Spike Lee joints). The theatre actor in him loves to rehearse, and he feels his performance in that film ended up being so strong because they did a lot of intense rehearsing before the shoot.

Lastly, he said he was "reluctant to talk about what a film is about," because he thinks that the job of the person in the audience and what fun would it be just to tell us all what to think. In the end, I'm glad I went, even if the film is one of those Hollywood vanity projects (Norton mentioned he'd always wanted to make a sweeping epic) that many actors create to give themselves work. Instead of being all snarky about that, as I am inclined to do, I'm going to resist and say what does it matter when the end product is clearly a piece of quality work from a surprisingly well spoken, obviously intelligent, well read, and highly talented individual.

Oh, and hot, did I mention that too? He's totally hunky and hot.

Oh, and the other shocking thing that I did not realize about my own damn self, is that I've seen 19 of the 21 titles listed on his page, which I was kind of surprised by. Does that mean he's my male version of Kirsten Dunst?


Kate said...

This is a lovely and well written post. Thank you for the insights.

Richard Steandric Ricsteand said...

thank you for this report, but -
obviously you're a fan of norton so no surprise you're all over him in this. not that i don't like him as a very good actor and intelligent person, but being a fan of naomi watts who is the LEAD and plays the lead character of of this film about the story of kitty, i expect to read a bit more about her in particular her performance in the film. you even say toby jones is wonderful.

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