I've been waiting to see The Painted Veil for sometime now being a big fan of the lovely Naomi Watts and a growing fan of the underrated Edward Norton. Not entirely knowing what to expect from this type of film I ventured into it hoping for it to not be completely slow and boring, and pleasantly surprised when it was quite the opposite.
Naomi Watts stars as Kitty, a well do Brit whose becoming ever so prodded by her irritating mother to settle down and get married, to anyone! Her father invites a very quiet and reserved bacteriologist Walter Fane (Edward Norton) to a party the family is hosting, and Walter immediately falls in love with Kitty, but it's clear she has no feelings for him. The next day she's quite shocked when Walter proposes to her, knowing nothing about this man and never having dated him she finds it quite strange. But in returning home Kitty overhears her mother discussing the marriage of one of her sisters and then exclaiming in desperation to never having any hope at all for her.
To escape the continuous nagging of her mother Kitty agrees to marry Walter, the man she has absolutely no feelings for. In doing so she moves off with him to Shanghai and begins a marriage that appears to be about as awkward as it can get, when it's to someone you have known a day! In the midst of her loneliness Kitty meets Charles Townsend a man she immediately falls in love with and begins to have a short lived affair with. Walter finds out and threatens to divorce her unless she agrees to accompany him to a small village named Mei-tan-fu, where the inhabitants there are dying from cholera. In a time when divorce was shunned upon and the divorcee usually marked, Kitty agrees to occupy Walter on a journey that appears to only be for torture.
Kitty's imposed presence on this journey clearly becomes a form of punishment and retaliation by Walter. While Walter helps to fight the cholera epidemic, Kitty is left alone with nothing to do and no one to talk to, even when Walter is there the silence is deafening. As the film progresses the lingering question that hangs in the minds of the viewer is will living in the midst of a cholera epidemic bring Kitty and Walter together or will their unhappy marriage ultimately end in death?
The Painted Veil surprised me in the sense that it wasn't a slow moving drama. While it didn't have a much in the way of action, what it offers is a griping story, fantastic acting and witty dialogue. It truly portrays the pain and frustration of the characters as something real. And its accomplishment in such feats helps the viewer to form their own feelings for the characters and their difficulties.
Naomi Watts and Edward Norton both put forth grade "A" performances, it also didn't hurt that they both produced this film (probably a little bit of an extra incentive to make a good film). Personally I think this is Naomi's best film to date, she really succeeded in bringing across the pain and frustration of her character and it puts her other performances to shame. Edward Norton should be known as the "King of Independent Films" seeing he's had multiple successes with those that have only seen limited release; also a worthy mention of Toby Jones who does an outstanding job in his supporting role.
In the end, The Painted Veil is a suburb film and well worth the viewing, I picked this film up when it first came out and have already watched it twice. Fans of Watts or Norton must not let this one pass by and if your a fan of dramas I highly recommend this; it's fantastically made, flows wonderfully, full of beautiful scenery and music and really touches the heart. In my opinion The Painted Veil is one of the best films of 2006, and gives Norton another place among my Top 10 films of 2006.