review for Birth on AllMovie

Birth (2004)
by Derek Armstrong review

Jonathan Glazer's follow-up to Sexy Beast, Birth is a gravely serious yet intensely absorbing look at a widow contemplating a relationship with a young boy, after he provides convincing proof he's her husband. The film would seem to have the makings of good controversy -- reincarnation, pedophilia -- but Birth failed to provoke, getting brushed aside as a "weird little mistake" seen by few. That's a shame, because it's a beautifully crafted film and a haunting consideration of its unusual subject. Nicole Kidman gives a daring, detailed performance, conveying deeply conflicted emotion through vacant stares that undergo minute shifts in accordance with her thoughts. She invites the audience into her shoes, asking what they'd do if confronted with the same evidence. Glazer gives Kidman room to explore through long and lingering takes, which reinforce the meditative pacing. Danny Huston is superlative as the fiancé unraveling under the weight of the boy's bizarre infiltration, and Anne Heche etches her own lasting impression as Kidman's former rival, gaunt and focused. But the performance that really drives the film, for better or worse, is that of ten-year-old Cameron Bright -- who played another child of uncommon birth, a clone, in Godsend, released just a few months earlier. Bright may have confused the two films, because he gives Sean the empty affect of a pod person; he's a catatonic stalker rather than a facsimile of Anna's former husband, whether or not that's the most effective incarnation for winning her back. Glazer's choice is redeemed through the coda, which -- while no less cleanly resolved than any other part of this uncomfortable story -- at least indicates some hope for these lost souls.