In a lengthy and bravura opening sequence, accented by a haunting timpani-accented score, a lone jogger, who we will eventually learn is named Sean, runs through a snow-covered Central Park, collapsing in one of the park’s many footbridge underpasses, at the same time a newborn is brought into the world. And while the circle of life is gracefully juxtaposed in this sequence, it also lays the seeds for what will become one of the major problems of the story. We flash forward ten years, to the day the jogger’s widow, Anna (Kidman), has finally accepted a proposal of marriage from Joseph (Danny Huston), a man of culture who has patiently courted Anna for several years. An engagement party in their honor is being thrown in the luxurious East Side apartment owned by Anna’s mother Eleanor (Lauren Bacall), where Anna lives, along with her pregnant sister Laura (Alison Elliot) and her husband Bob (Arliss Howard), whose own home is being remodeled. Amongst the guests are Sean’s best friend Clifford (Peter Stormare) and his wife Clara (Anne Heche), who are clearly uncomfortable in such a regal setting. Feeling such anxiety over seeing Anna for the first time since Sean’s death, Clara escapes from the building, after taking notice of a young boy sitting quietly in the marbled lobby foyer.
A couple days later, during a birthday celebration for Eleanor, the young boy peacefully makes his way into the apartment, assumed by most as a guest of one of the attendees, and asks to speak privately with Anna. Taking him into the kitchen, Anna is, at first, shocked when he affirms himself to be her husband and warns her not to marry Joseph, marching him down to the lobby and directing the doorman to send him home. The boy, whom the doorman confirms to Anna is named Sean, is the son of a music tutor who has clients in the building, and even after Anna and Joseph confront Sean and his father about the boy bothering Anna, Sean openly defies everyone’s wishes, insisting he knows what is best. Intrigued, Anna invites Sean to stay at their apartment, to quiz the boy on how much he knows, which is where the rest of the film falls apart.
Reincarnation stories require a major suspension of disbelief and attention to every detail, lest its already tenuous house of cards foundation brings the whole idea comes crashing down. With “Birth,” the weak foundation wavers on whether Sean the young boy is Sean the deceased husband. If so, why does he not know a number of what should be minor details, and if not, why does he know such intimate particularsr When the film finally does decide whether he is or not, it does so in such a superficial manner, one wonders why they were asked to take this journey.
It is ten year old newcomer Cameron Bright and eighty year old legend Lauren Bacall to whom this film belongs, if for nothing else because they each play their scenes with a refreshing lack of agonizing theatrics, she likely because she’s wizened enough to know better and he too young to be corrupted by Actors Studio disciples. Danny Huston continues to quickly build an impressive resume as an actor, after his stellar work in “Silver City” and “21 Grams,” while the sorely underused and underappreciated Alison Elliot is sadly given too little to do. Nicole Kidman looks exquisite, in her short cropped hairdo and designer dresses, but has no real character to work with, which diminishes our abilities to sympathize for her plight.
On a technical level, the film is stunningly shot, with a haunting minimalist score. Director Glazer, who wrote the screenplay with Jean-Claude Carriere (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” “Tin Drum” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) and Milo Addica (“Monsters Ball”), has shown with his previous film “Sexy Beast” to be an accomplished storyteller. With “Birth,” however, he has perhaps taken too much of a leap of faith with his story, which require us to accept it is okay for a woman in her thirties to fall in love, and even run away, with a pre-teen boy. Love, while being one of the greatest things about life, does have its limitations.Rating: C-