The Weight of Water (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

In terms of the basic plot line, The Weight of Water has many things in common with Gwyneth Paltrow's Possession. In both of those films, someone from the present is investigating a mystery in the past, and that experience is causing them to reflect on their own lives. Weight of Water is actually the earlier movie, although it passed through its theatrical release virtually unnoticed in 2000.

The films are not similar in tone, however, and they relate the parallel stories in very different ways. Possession is a more straightforward film. Two literary scholars co-operate in the investigation of a secret and theretofore unsuspected relationship between two nineteenth century poets. Each of the modern day scholars specializes in one of the Victorian lovers, paired off by matching sexes. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, is a specialist in the woman being investigated. She feels she knows the woman, and she identifies with her. When all of her assumptions about the female poet are challenged, she begins to re-examine her analysis of the poet and of herself as well. The fact that the poet turned out to be more open to the varieties and richness of love than previously thought caused Gwyneth to open herself up in a similar way. All in all, that was quite a tidy script.

The Weight of Water is far less contrived than that, and more subtle. Unfortunately, contrivance can be as underrated as subtlety is overrated. The problem with this subtle, uncontrived approach is that it is just not interesting. The script is constantly searching for profundity, and perhaps it succeeds in that quest from time to time, but this water was a little too weighty for my taste. It seeks depth while sacrificing a compelling narrative.

A female photographer/journalist is investigating a 19th century double murder among the mostly Norwegian immigrants on the rugged islands off the coast of New Hampshire. Her husband's brother has a boat, and the two couples turn the research into a working vacation of sorts. The journalist wants to understand the case fully, so she gets so far into the psychology of the characters in the past that she is dreaming about them, imagining them. She concludes that the crime was not committed by the person or for the reasons normally imagined.

In the present, her marriage to a Pulitzer-winning poet is experiencing difficulties, and that situation is not made any easier by the fact that her husband is flirting with his brother's girlfriend. It is especially troubling since the girlfriend looks a lot like the gorgeous British model/actress, Elizabeth Hurley. In fact, exactly like her. Ms. Hurley seems to spend all of her screen time making eyes at the husband, sunbathing topless, and sucking suggestively on various household objects.

It is always difficult to manage parallel stories in the past and present. Looking back on the films which have used that device, not many of them are that memorable, for various reasons. The greatest weakness of the device in this particular avatar is that the connection between the past and the present is tenuous. I was watching carefully, mindful of that very link, and I saw only one very good use of the past story to explain something in the present. There is a brief period in the present day story when the journalist's actions seem inexplicable unless one understands what actually happened in the past, as well as the journalist's perception of it. That moment rang through like a powerful bell, but the rest of the film almost seemed like two unrelated stories being cut together randomly.

I guess I could live with the sudden merging of the characters' motivations from previously unsuspected connections if the two stories were each supremely interesting, or even if one of them was, but in this case neither of the two separate stories, if viewed separately, would really hold one's attention. Even the double axe murder in the past is dull because there is no surprise in the story's retelling. We are led to believe from the very outset that the accused murderer is innocent, and we are led to believe who really did it and why. The fully detailed story simply confirms what we had already inferred. There is a surprise twist in the present, but I can't say it is one that will provide much of a reward to the viewer for having watched faithfully through the contemporary story filled with portentous exchanges and meaningful glances.

The film's formula was consistent, but unsuccessful: (languorous, meaningful glancing and pregnant pausing in the present) + (a complete lack of surprises in the past) = boredom.  The entire project is slow and arty, and the running time has been padded with recitations from poetry. I'm not surprised that the film was such a complete failure at the box office.  

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1.


Elizabeth Hurley shows her breasts while trying to prevent some papers from blowing away while she was sunbathing topless. She also pokes out of most of her outfits.

Ulrich Thomsen shows his butt and a bit more when he was photographed from behind while removing his pants


The Weight of Water (2000) essentially consists of two parallel stories:

The first is a century-old murder  on a remote New England island. Two women were brutally murdered, and a German immigrant was convicted and hanged for the crime. The only survivor (Sarah Polley) is the chief witness. Her sister and her brother's wife were murdered.

In the second, a photographer for a magazine has been assigned to take some pictures for an article on the century-old murder She decides to drag along her intellectual husband (Sean Penn) to try to revive their failing marriage. They will be taken to the island by the husband's brother, who owns a yacht, and who brings along his girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley). The girlfriend sets her sights on Penn, who is a famed poet with a Pulitzer prize. The journalist, from the beginning, senses psychically, that there is more to the past story than the simple conviction, and she finally uncovers evidence which demonstrates who really committed the murders.

This was a major flop from a respected director, Katherine Bigelow (Strange Days). The action switches between the two stories in a nearly random manner, and attempts to show parallels between stories that just don't have many. Certainly, both stories tell of an unhappy marriage, but, frankly, each story distracts from the other and they do not fit well together.

I will say that I watched the entire film without hitting fast forward. The scenery made for very nice visuals, and the 100 year old part of the story was especially well photographed. I was involved enough to wonder how it would end, but was not overly impressed with the fruit of my efforts.

The Critics Vote

  • General  consensus: two stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2/4, and most others in the same ballpark, or ever a hair lower.

The People Vote ...

  • The box office was virtually nil. $103,000, making the $16 million investment a virtual write-off. It got a 27 screen trial, and even that proved excessive relative to its appeal.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C- (Both reviewers)

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