Fine Line Features | Release Date: October 29, 2004
Generally favorable reviews based on 48 Ratings
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BobA.Jan 17, 2006
Wonderfully directed and beatifully acted, (especially by Kidman), the plot, which wants to be a sort of understated thriller, never quite hits the right notes.
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AlexJ.Jun 16, 2006
The film raises interesting questions about the nature of romantic love--
[***SPOILERS***] why is it that that Nicole Kidman's character seems so easily to succumb to the rather incredible notion that a 10 year old boy could be her
The film raises interesting questions about the nature of romantic love--
[***SPOILERS***] why is it that that Nicole Kidman's character seems so easily to succumb to the rather incredible notion that a 10 year old boy could be her dead husband? The movie seems to answer this by showing that her emotions could be explained psychologically-- she isn't in love with her new fiance, she has not moved past her grief and love for her dead husband. Yet the film also seems to want to leave these questions murky and un-resolved, in order to heighten the mystery-- maybe the boy really is her dead husband, after all? The film has a certain gravity, is visually memorable and Kidman is luminous and beautiful, really giving herself over to the role. But the lack of resolution of the story, characters that act quite absurdly and the portrayal by the young actor as the "dead husband" leave one feeling unsatisfied. The boy says nothing that would make him to appear to be really the dead husband. So I prefer the pyschological explanation, and think that the film would have been much more effective if it had gone all the way with showing what motivated both the boy and Nicole Kidman's character.
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jdicksteihnMay 22, 2012
This review contains spoilers. I loved Sexy Beast, Jonathan Glazer's first movie, and really wanted to like this, but was unable to. It has absolutely no sense of narrative drive. The story lies there like a stillborn baby. The main problem is that you have an overly tame performance from child actor Cameron Bright in a role that requires a lot of strength of will and charm. If we are going to root for this young child as the reincarnation of Nicole Kidman's dead husband, he has to come with more than facts about the guy's life. He has to, in some way, be the guy, or there is no romance. Bright manages to not crack a smile or have any discernible emotion for the entire movie. And if we were not supposed to root for this child, then who should we root for? Certainly not Kidman's husband played by Danny Huston with cold, upper class detachment. We are really just left to wish that her husband, who we've never seen, had never died. Until we discover he was cheating on her, which leaves us thinking that Kidman should stay away from men for a while. This could have been a very fun and daring movie had they somehow gotten Bright to resemble a savvy adult who could charm Nicole Kidman's pants off. That's a tall order, but this premise really calls for it. Or else we are left with just feeling a constant sense of dread. Kidman will either wind up with a young boy who seems to have no feelings or a rich man angling for a trophy wife. In the end we are left feeling she would be better off without either of them. We are also left without any real explanation as to how and why this young child knew all these facts about Kidman's deceased husband. I may be missing some subtle hint here, apologies if I am, but the details around the child's knowledge of Dead Sean's life seem purposefully ambiguous to the point of laziness. The movie feels lazy in other ways too. The laziest moment takes place in and around a bathtub. Kidman has been convinced by Young Sean's very detailed list of facts about her husband's life, personal and otherwise, and she finally asks the boy to run away with her. The young boy, who is taking a bath, says 'I'm not Sean' and instantly Kidman believes him. No questions as to how he knew everything he knew. No questions as to his motivation. No clinging to the belief that this must still be her dead husband. Instead she declares 'you're a little liar' and 'you certainly had me fooled, I thought you were my dead husband'. That's a pretty sharp turn to take off 'I'm not Sean'. What if he was just kidding? Forgetting the unfulfilled and implausible story, Nicole Kidman does a bang up job. It's easy to forget for a moment that you're watching a movie that makes no sense, and get caught up in her committed and heartfelt performance. If this story had given her character an even moderately fulfilling arc or sense of growth, she would have been able to carry this movie on her back and run it into the end zone. But as it stands her character goes from missing her husband and not liking the guy she's marrying to missing her husband and not liking the guy she's marrying.

In the end, this makes me appreciate that Sexy Beast was a collaborative effort, and that its screenwriters knew what they were doing. Here Glazer just doesn't have a good enough story to dazzle us again.
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SpangleMay 18, 2017
Championed by many as a modern day master of filmmaking, Jonathan Glazer has still yet to make a film that has actually been what I would define as good. Artistically top-notch? Sure. Are they good beyond that? Absolutely not. Sexy BeastChampioned by many as a modern day master of filmmaking, Jonathan Glazer has still yet to make a film that has actually been what I would define as good. Artistically top-notch? Sure. Are they good beyond that? Absolutely not. Sexy Beast comes the closest, but still falls short and Under the Skin is one of the worst films I have seen this decade (though, admittedly, I avoid awful films, so do take that with a grain of salt). Now, why do I think this film is below average? Quite simple: plausibility. Telling the story of a woman who is set to re-marry after the death of her husband ten years earlier, Birth introduces us to a young boy who is ten years old and claims to be her dead husband. Throwing her life up into the air, the reincarnation bit is not the implausible part. The implausible part is the utter lack of emotion.

Stiff, unfeeling, and unrelentingly cold, Birth is another film by Glazer that seems to misunderstand humanity. He was smart in making Under the Skin's protagonist an alien because it matched his inability to conjure up real human emotion and feeling. Sure, Anna (Nicole Kidman) falls in love with this young boy and gets mad at one point, while her fiance Joseph (Danny Huston) gets into a tirade at one point, but aside from these outbursts, the film is a quiet meditative film that never displays the confusion of the moment. Joseph just gets mad and questions Anna about the boy. Anna, as Kidman plays her, just goes through the motions and never seems to capture the raw emotion that the boy is playing with when he shows up and says he is Sean. For a woman hearing from a young boy that her husband is reincarnated in a young boy, she takes it pretty laid back and just gets sad at times. There is no moment where Kidman plays Anna as anything less than an implausibly calm and breathy woman who seems to be viewing the ongoing events around her as an absolute outsider.

The plotting itself is also quite disappointing, especially with the ending, though it is a crisis of the whole film. Throughout, Glazer includes scenes of people speaking about topics that we are already familiar with. One such example is when Sean's parents are first told about what he said to Anna and then go inside and talk about what he said to her. This even happens in individual scenes where Glazer opts to explain every detail instead of just leaving it up to us to fill in the blanks, such as when Clara (Anna Heche) tells Sean that the real Sean had given her the unopened letters. Explaining why he had given her the letters, this sequence is one that shows Glazer carrying on a scene for too long with the extra information only serving to undermine the rest of the film due to its implications. On one hand, the new Sean opens the letters out of guilt maybe for cheating on Anna. However, if that were true, he would know who Clara was because she is what makes him feel guilty, but he does not remember Clara. On the other, he read them and quickly began to feel that he was Sean, but was not actually Sean. This, again, would not explain how he knew everything about them, considering they were love letters and would likely not include details about where Sean worked and lectured or about Anna's brother-in-law's work as a doctor and potential infertility. Thus, the film reaches an impasse. It has no idea whether Sean was Sean or was not with neither really making complete sense. This issue arises solely because Glazer over-wrote the sequence with Clara to include more details regarding the letters and the reason why she was given them. Had he left some information out of that scene, it would have left the film far more open to interpretation and, as a result, better and more in line with the film's ominous feeling.

The acting on display certainly does help the film's cause either. Kidman, though I love her more often than not, has a knack of playing these inhumanly emotionless characters in lower budget features and Birth certainly qualifies. She seems to be wholly disinterested in the goings on and, with the production resting on her shoulders, this is detrimental to the final product. For such a brilliant actress who can play solemn and can play emotional, she just becomes cold at the suggestion that her husband is back. This is a man she has mourned for a decade and now he might be back. Sure, her initial confusion makes sense, but she quickly believes him because she wants to and then just becomes cold and unfeeling. Compared to her dead husband, it seems like she has less blood coursing through her veins than him. Around Kidman, the acting is fine. Lauren Bacall is strong here in a late period role, while Cameron Bright does about as well as can be expected from a young actor. Yet, unfortunately, the film rests on Kidman and she does not sell it at all.
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