Painted Veil Redux
There’s More to The Painted Veil Than Edward Norton

I’ve been taken to task for taking Naomi Watts for granted, for not highlighting her work as Kitty Fane. In my review of The Painted Veil, I remarked that “Kitty’s transformational arc is understandable—perhaps because of its predictability,” while calling Edward Norton’s turn as Walter Fane “the real treat of this film.”

One reader responded, “Just as in the novel, where Kitty was on every page, this film is the story of Kitty—yet you’ve commented in great length about Walter. How about Kitty and the performance of the lead, Naomi Watts?”

Another reader, John, went even further:

It is obvious that Naomi Watts’ work is being taken for granted. Her ironic or sarcastic remarks (from Allure magazine), which have been widely published recently, show she probably agrees (but they should be taken in context). Why not act in a dumb romantic comedy and go for the big bucks? … Run your site as you wish. Just don’t take Watts for granted in the future.

First, it’s absolutely true that my review does not do Watts’ performance justice. Guilty as charged. And I really did feel bad about that, as I was writing the review, because I have not previously been overly impressed by Watts. In The Painted Veil, however, any portrayal of Kitty Fane would be critical to the film’s success; if Kitty doesn’t work, Walter doesn’t even matter.

So here it is: Naomi Watts here gives what is probably one of the top two or three female lead performances of the year. She carries the film, and carries it superbly. For me, only Helen Mirren in The Queen has been better.

While my review undersells Watts, however, I don’t think it undersells Kitty. Just as the movie does, my review begins and ends with her; I describe the film as “the tale of Kitty Fane’s journey toward love, loss, and restoration”; and observe that “this is a story told almost entirely from Kitty’s point of view.”

So why didn’t I devote more of my word limit to Watts? Why focus so much on Walter and Norton? As misguided as my thinking may have been, I wanted to shed some light on the part of the film that I suspected would puzzle most moviegoers. I wanted to discuss the meaning of the film more than the performances.

Oddly, I also anticipated that Norton was more likely to be snubbed in reviews than Watts. My colleagues in Seattle are always very high on Watts, and Norton’s—here—is the weaker performance. So I also wanted to highlight what I perceived as the “underdog” on this project. As it turns out, I was wildly wrong on this count.

Thanks to an extremely active publicist, Norton seems to be getting the lion’s share of the press on this project. That’s too bad, because Watts does shine here. And I’m sorry to have contributed to the collective snub.

Thanks to John for further bringing my attention to this slight.