The Painted Veil 

"The problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." So the movies have told us and so it is in The Painted Veil, a third screen adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel (the first, in 1934, starred Greta Garbo) about a British scientist (here played by Edward Norton) combating a cholera epidemic in rural China alongside his estranged wife, Kitty (Naomi Watts). Here is another love triangle in an exotic locale where larger humanitarian demands supersede romantic problems. And while it's no Casablanca, the presence of ace actors Norton and Watts helps The Painted Veil rise above its Merchant-Ivory-style period-piece origins.

After discovering Kitty cheating on him with another civil servant (Liev Schreiber) while stationed in Shanghai, infectious-disease expert Walter drags her to the countryside, where Kitty suspects he wants her to catch the disease and perish. There, Kitty visits an orphanage at a convent and begins to get a sense of the size of the problem and how seriously Walter takes his work.

Romantic alienation melts as both immerse themselves in duty, and, by the end, this earnest, honorable melodrama is likely to win you over as well. -- Chris Herrington

Opens Friday, January 12th, at Studio on the Square

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