The present crashes on the rocks of the past in The Weight of Water, Kathryn Bigelow’s musky, roiling adaptation of Anita Shreve’s novel about elementally destructive sexual jealousy. And the movie maneuvers skillfully through the plot’s hot brine – until it’s undone by the sogginess of its contemporary characters, and actors.
In the present, Jean (Catherine McCormack), a magazine photographer, sets out on a turbulent boat trip to document the place where two young Norwegian immigrant women were hacked to death off the coast of New Hampshire in 1873. Joining Jean aboard the Lust Boat are her famous poet husband, Thomas (Sean Penn), Thomas’ skipper brother, Rich (Josh Lucas), and Rich’s siren girlfriend, Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley), who never met a bikini bra she couldn’t shuck or an ice cube she wouldn’t suck like…Elizabeth Hurley. (The film was made pre-motherhood, in 2000.)
But just as history folded in on itself in another recent literary potboiler, Neil LaBute’s ”Possession,” so the tensions among this wine-soaked quartet echo the domestic hell of a century ago that engulfed the repressed Maren (a riveting Sarah Polley), her primly seething sister (extraordinary Katrin Cartlidge, who died in September), and Maren’s alluring sister-in-law (Vinessa Shaw). And in the heaving cross-century swirl of the climax, ”Weight” makes its point: Jealousy is timeless; Hurley is not.