It wasn't exactly a good year in 2004 for movies about reincarnated ex's. First, there was "P.S.", a small movie about a college dean (Laura Linney) who thinks one of her prospective students (Topher Grace) is some sort of reincarnation of her ex-boyfriend. The movie was barely at the box office. Then came Jonathan Glazer's "Birth", a movie that concerns a woman who believes that a little kid is her dead husband. The movie didn't do much better in theaters, although it is the better film of the two.
"Birth" does star Nicole Kidman as Anna, a woman whose life is torn apart when she finds that her husband, Sean, has died. She finally begins to get on with her life, and eventually decides to get engaged to Joseph (Danny Huston). 10 years after Sean's death, a young boy (Cameron Bright) walks into Anna's apartment and claims that he is Sean. As one might expect, Anna and her family are shocked at first, then upset. Still, the kid keeps coming back and keeps answering questions that only Sean would know.
The picture is going to split audiences, as viewers are either going to buy into the story and appreciate the quiet, subtle nature of the picture or find it a little too stuffy, dry and deliberately paced. Personally, I fell into the former camp, as despite the fact that the story is a bit flawed here and there, director Glazer and cinematographer Harris Savides ("Gerry") have created a glossy, cold world that's eerily gorgeous. It's complimented by Alexandre Desplat's luminous, superb, dreamlike classical score, which floats over the picture and seeps into every minute. Overall, the picture creates a great atmosphere and tone.
The performances are mostly excellent, especially Kidman, who portrays a woman thrown into disarray by the return of her lost love in a different form quite well. Cameron Bright is also excellent as the returning Sean, who brings such confidence to his answers that he's rather creepy. Huston provides a very good performance as Anna's future husband, angered by this reminder of her past.
Some of the plot seemed unbelievable, and the ending - like in "P.S." - shows a story that's backed itself into a corner, not really knowing how to wrap it all up. "Birth" doesn't always connect its story dots, but it creates such a strong atmosphere and offers such strong performances that I found the movie consistently involving and enjoyably mysterious.
VIDEO: "Birth" is presented by New Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is excellent, as the transfer presents the film's haunting, elegant imagery in quite a satisfying manner. There are some issues here, but I'm guessing that they are mostly an intentional element of the cinematography.
Sharpness and detail are usually very good, although some moments appear slightly softer than the rest. The picture does present minor-to-moderate grain at times, but I didn't find it distracting, and it's likely intentional. Some very slight traces of edge enhancement were present, but also not very bothersome. No pixelation or print wear was spotted.
The film's color palette is very subtle and somewhat drained, but the presentation shows the tone of the colors quite well. Overall, this is a very fine effort.
SOUND: "Birth" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's outstanding score (had the movie been more popular, I think the movie's score should/could have gotten some awards notice) does have some reinforcement from the surrounds, but this is otherwise a forward-oriented, dialogue-driven piece. It's a soft, subtle movie in pretty much every which way, including the audio. Audio quality is fine, with crisp & clear effects, music and dialogue.
EXTRAS: The film's trailer is offered, as well as a few trailers for other New Line releases.
Final Thoughts: "Birth"'s story doesn't always tie together well, but the performances are great and the movie's tone and feel really combine for an engaging, elegant mystery. The DVD doesn't offer much in the way of supplement, but audio/video quality is good. A recommended rental.
The Film ***