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With: Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Toby Jones, Diana Rigg, Anthony Wong, Li Bin, Sally Hawkins
Written by: Ron Nyswaner, based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham
Directed by: John Curran
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature sexual situations, partial nudity, disturbing images and brief drug content
Running Time: 125
Date: 12/20/2006

The Painted Veil (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hot Under the Cholera

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Usually adaptations of classic novels result in polite, lifeless movies, afraid to depart from the hallowed pages or to try anything cinematic. Just the title The Painted Veil along with the term "based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham" should be enough to inspire yawns. But this time director John Curran (We Don't Live Here Anymore) digs just a little deeper and finds something remarkably human in the material, originally published in 1925. It's a film that carries us away before we've even realized it. Edward Norton stars as Walter Fane, a rather cheerless bacteriologist who visits London just long enough to spot the flirty, modern Kitty (Naomi Watts). He proposes marriage to her, and although she isn't interested, she accepts mainly to please her mother. She has an affair with the British vice consul (Liev Schreiber), but her hubby soon finds out. In a kind of blackmail, he forces her to accompany him to China to help out with a cholera outbreak, where he promptly ignores her. She befriends a scruffy, droll British chap (Toby Jones) and the local Mother Superior (Diana Rigg) on the road to redemption. I've not read the novel, but apparently screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) has gutted the London sequences, favoring the China sequences. No matter. Curran suggests the importance of Kitty's affair without dwelling on it. In fact, Curran manages quite a bit merely by suggesting and hinting; this is not a talky movie. An excellent score by Alexandre Desplat (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Birth) and delicate editing by Alexandre de Franceschi help establish an unobtrusive flow. The great Anthony Wong (Hard-Boiled, Time and Tide and Infernal Affairs) co-stars as a Chinese colonel.

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