Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Danny Huston, Cameron Bright, Anne Heche.
A haunting meditation on love, loss and grief, with supernatural undertones, Birth continues the eclectic range of roles that Nicole Kidman seems attracted to since her Oscar-winning turn in The Hours (Dogville, etc).
Kidman plays Anna, a wealthy New York widow celebrating her engagement to her future husband (Danny Huston). The party takes a turn into weird territory when ten-year-old Sean (new comer Cameron Bright) turns up, claiming to be her late husband Sean, who died ten years earlier. At first Anna dismisses the boy’s claims. But soon she finds herself drawn towards the strange boy, who seems to know intimate details about Anna, her late husband and her family, while the rest of the family looks on in various degrees of disbelief and confusion. There is a slowly developing air of creeping dread as Anna becomes obsessed with the boy’s presence and seems to be losing her grip on reality.
A ghostly story with art-house pretensions, Birth is an unsettling thriller that represents a 180-degree turn for director Jonathan Glazer, whose previous film was the chilling Sexy Beast, which was dominated by a malevolent turn from Ben Kingsley. Birth is, by comparison, a more sedate, sombre and subtle offering that almost collapses under the weight of its absurd premise. With its muted lighting, warm interiors, coldness and deliberate air of ambiguity, and uniformly stoic performances, this is almost European in its sensibility. Even the controversial scene in which Kidman shares a bath with the ten-year-old reincarnation of her late husband is tastefully handled and hardly worth the fuss that it seems to have created overseas.
Performances from the solid cast are all excellent, with Kidman wonderfully cold and understated as the emotionally fragile Anna. Lauren Bacall is superbly imperious as the family’s no-nonsense matriarch; and Bright delivers a chillingly intense performance as Sean.
However, Birth is a film that is likely to divide audiences; while there will be some willing to go along with the flow, others will be turned off by its subject matter and abstract nature.