Film — Birth (R)

Birth (R)

by Amy Diaz

Nicole Kidman is romanced by a tiny little man—no, not Tom Cruise; her costar’s a much better actor—in the creepy romance Birth.

Cameron Bright, the kid who plays Kidman’s mini-suitor, has one of those faces—some combination of bright eyes and wrinkle-free expressionlessness that makes him perfect for these possessed-child roles. Well, cash in now, evil seed. Puberty will put an end to your bankability.

Anna (Kidman) first meets the tiny Romeo at her mother’s (Lauren Bacall) birthday party. The lights are off for the big dramatic blow-out-the-candles moment and when the lights go on, the creepy little young’n is in the middle of the room telling Anna that he’s Sean.

As it turns out Sean (Bright) is the boy’s name. But what he means is that he’s Anna’s Sean, her much beloved husband who died 10 years earlier. This perplexes and greatly disturbs Anna, who has only recently become engaged to Joseph (Danny Huston). She tells the boy to stop playing this trick on her. He responds by saying he’s Sean.

In fact, simply repeating the fact that he’s Sean is all little Sean can do at first. But eventually he asks Anna to have her brother-in-law Bob (Arliss Howard) test him. Bob asks little Sean questions about his life with Anna and he answers them, or rather, he provides answers more or less related to the questions and those answers contain personal information about the grown-up Sean and Anna. Still, Anna’s family, to include her sister (Alison Elliot), her mother and the increasingly annoyed Joseph, insist that the boy is running some kind of con. But Anna, still clearly in love with and grieving for her husband, starts to believe it might be true. Or, at least, she starts to want it to be true.

The scene where we see this most clearly is a beautiful close-up on Kidman’s face. She and Huston sit watching a symphony. With the camera unblinkingly fixated on her, we can see love, loss, hope and confusion play out on Kidman’s face. The scene is impressively acted, intelligently shot and bolstered by an emotional score.

And it’s a microcosm of the better parts of the rest of the movie. The movie starts with a shot of the adult Sean, whose face we never see, jogging through a wintery Central Park and eventually collapsing under a bridge. The music is “Peter and the Wolf”-like in its mix of whimsy and foreboding, a certain amount of playfulness and doom. As the story unfolds, we get from the photography, more than from the story or dialogue, how Anna slides from quiet manageable misery into paralyzing sadness. We watch her face transform, from the small smiles of Guess-I-Have-to-Remarry-Eventually to the utter confusion of Why-Is-Dead-Husband-So-Short—the transformation is impressive on the part of Kidman and well captured by the camera.

The rest of the movie is interesting but rather lackluster. It takes a few chances that don’t work (a scene with Kidman and Bright in the bathtub is creepy, yes, but more than that it just doesn’t do anything for the story or the movie) and plays it safe in a few places where more daring might have livened up the story considerably.

The movie ends rather impressively on a down note—the last 15 to 20 minutes are far more psychologically interesting than the preceding hour of the movie—a move that saves the film from complete mediocrity. An interesting concept more than it is a well-executed reality, Birth plays like a student film that lingered over technique but rushed with story.

- Amy Diaz 

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