The Painted Veil Review: Great Visuals, Weak Narrative

December 29, 2006

The Painted Veil is Warner Independent's latest release from executive producer Bob Yari (The Illusionist, Crash) and director John Curran (We Don't Live Here Anymore, Praise) about the destruction and reconstruction of a relationship when a spouse has an affair, and about how a relationship can be rebuilt from nothing. The film is visually astounding, set deep in a remote Chinese village in the 1920s, but it lacks a consistently entertaining story. I was looking forward to a well-made movie but was disappointed by the humdrum storytelling.

Walter (Edward Norton), a doctor, and Kitty Fane (Naomi Watts) are a young couple who move to Beijing in the 1920s. We are quickly thrown into the depths of their romance as we learn of the affair Kitty is in with their friend Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber). After discovering her adulterous ways, Walter decides to punish Kitty by taking her on his outing to a remote Chinese village that is under a cholera epidemic, all while their disdain for each other continues to grow. Here we meet Waddington (Toby Jones), and the story begins to develop into something much more about discovery and life than about the affair and destruction of their relationship.

Walter Fane (Edward Norton) observes the lush Chinese landscape in The Painted Veil.

The Painted Veil isn't likely to hold the attention of a mainstream audience, except for just a few shining moments of intensity and feigning scenes of excitement thanks to Edward Norton and Toby Jones. It uses its location much to its advantage, and would not have been at all as enjoyable were it not filmed on location in rural China. The film has a very distinctive visual look that goes hand-in-hand with the theme and mood - it's even captured perfectly on the poster, too. You'll observe it and know it well, and that achievement is only ever exhibited from passionate independent filmmakers. The camera work is superb - this is clearly an artful film - but the director's storytelling and the long, mundane scenes made this a laborious film to watch.

As the character Walter, Ed Norton is hard to identify uniquely in The Painted Veil - he did not distance himself from performances in other recent films like The Illusionist. Although I may be just overlooking his capabilities, as he delivers a profound screen presence with nearly every film, including this one. However the most glowing performance was found in any appearance from Toby Jones; now I regret not seeing him as Truman Capote in Infamous earlier this year. Jones steals the show in Veil as Waddington, and I plan to keep an eye on this great actor as he gets more work in the years ahead.

The wonderful Toby Jones and the gorgeous Naomi Watts in The Painted Veil.

Last Word:
The Painted Veil has both its incredible strengths: the beautiful landscapes in the backdrop of China, the great performances from Norton and Jones, and a great soundtrack - and vast weaknesses: boring scenes, lengthy narratives, and a director who still needs some polish - but unfortunately the weaknesses pulled too much away from its bright plot. I appreciate these new filmmakers' attempts and independent releases, as they have incredible production values, but I walked out of The Painted Veil without much of an appreciation for John Curran's latest feature.

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whereas everywhere else we're reading film critics and viewers praising the excellent performances seen in this film, especially from naomi watts, this author's only comment on her is just one word "gorgeous" (look) hidden somewhere within a photo caption. when charlie rose interviewed the oscar-nominated actress earlier this week, he said he was glad to see the actress getting oscar buzz again for her performance. andrea gronvall of the chicago reader says watts supplies the grit and soul in this adaptation. bill zwecker of the chicago sun-times considers her one of the few actresses of her generation who can easily assume the mantle of those graceful screen queens of the 1930s. tim knight of reel review says it marks another triumph for watts' sterling performance, and slant magazine's negative review even says this is her finest performance since mulholland drive - to quote just a few. to his notoriety, this author's obvious slight of the talented actress and her hard work (great performances from norton and jones, no watts) is another example to indicate why watts has been known as the actress who is receiving less credit than her excellent work, and why her career road has been so hard-ridden compared to other actresses who are far less talented and hard-working.

steandric on Dec 29, 2006


Well Mr. Billington could walk out from the film, but by doing so he was also walking himself away from the critics consensus who have given 80% approval of the film (Rotten Tomatoes rating). And since Mr. Billington has been overlooking a lot of things like norton's capabilities and jones' Truman Capote, he might just have overlooked Naomi Watts' brilliant performance (as agreed by the majority of film critics and viewers) in this film. With such credibility I think all future film reviews of Mr. Billington can be safely disregarded.

Stella on Dec 29, 2006


almost everyone else believes the great performance, if there was one, is by naomi watts. even the first negative critic from slant said it was her best performance since mulholland dr. (i think 21g & ellie parker were equal or better.)

john on Jan 3, 2007


It is an excallent movie.I am now started worrying about these review writers. Must be part time truck drivers.

ramana on Jan 6, 2007


This is one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. As soon as I finished the movie, I wanted to watch it again. Edward Norton gave a very strong performance, you can see how talented he is as an actor. This is one of those rare movies that is actually better than the book. I give this movie a 10++.

Jeanne on Jul 22, 2007

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