A newspaper photographer researches an 1873 double homicide and finds her own life paralleling that of a witness who survived the tragic ordeal.


Kathryn Bigelow


Anita Shreve (novel), Alice Arlen (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Ciarán Hinds ... Louis Wagner (as Ciaran Hinds)
Richard Donat ... Mr. Plaisted
Sarah Polley ... Maren Hontvedt
Ulrich Thomsen ... John Hontvedt
Anders W. Berthelsen Anders W. Berthelsen ... Evan Christenson
Murdoch MacDonald Murdoch MacDonald ... Bailiff (as Murdock McDonald)
Joseph Rutten ... Judge
John Walf John Walf ... Defense Attorney
Katrin Cartlidge ... Karen Christenson
Vinessa Shaw ... Anethe Christenson
Adam Curry Adam Curry ... Emil Ingerbretson
Catherine McCormack ... Jean Janes
Sean Penn ... Thomas Janes
Josh Lucas ... Rich Janes
Elizabeth Hurley ... Adaline Gunne


In 1873 on Smutty Nose Island, a bleak island off the coast of New England, Louis Wagner is tried and hanged for the murder of two women. At the trial, the survivor of the murders, Norwegian immigrant Maren Hontvedt, recounts the events that led up to the murder of her sister and sister-in-law. In so doing, she reveals how she was caught in a loveless marriage and her repressed passion for her brother. Meanwhile, in the present-day, newspaper photographer Jean travels to the island off the New Hampshire coast with her husband Thomas, an award-winning poet, his brother Rich, and Rich's girlfriend Adaline. She is researching the murders of the two immigrant women. In a twist of fate, she discovers archived papers that appear to give an account of the murders. According to the papers, Norwegian immigrant Maren Hontvedt, survived the attack, which was allegedly done by Louis Wagner, who had once tried to seduce her. The plot unfolds the narrative of the papers and Hontvedt's testimony ... Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Hell hath no fury...

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, and brief language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Based on an actual double-murder on the Isles of Shoals on 6 March 1873. See more »


Smuttynose Island is in the state of Maine but the trial in the film took place in New Hampshire. The state line divides the Isles of Shoals. See more »


Thomas Janes: Though lovers shall be lost, love shall not.
See more »


Referenced in Ancient Evil 2: Guardian of the Underworld (2005) See more »


Sulli lulli lite ban
Written by Inge Krokann
Performed by Traditional
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User Reviews

A cruise to nowhere
12 December 2005 | by jotix100See all my reviews

The problem with "The Weight of the Water", the film, is the way the novel by Anita Shreve, was adapted for the screen. This is the basic flaw that even a good director like Kathryn Bigelow couldn't overcome when she took command of the production. The novel, as it is, presents grave problems for a screen treatment, something that the adapters, Alicia Arlen and Christopher Kyle, were not successful with their screen play.

The picture is basically a film within a film. Both subjects, the present time and the story that is revealed as Jane gets involved, parallel each other, but one story has nothing to do with the other. Also, the way this film was marketed was wrong. This is not a thriller at all. What the book and the film are about is human situations that are put to a test.

In the story that happened many years ago in a settlement in coastal New England, there was a notorious murder at the center of the narrative. It has to do with a wrongly accused man, Louis Wagner, a man that is basically crippled with arthritis that is accused by Maren Hontvelt, his landlady, as the one that killed two women, Karen and Anethe. In flashbacks we get to know the truth of how an innocent man is hung for a crime he didn't commit.

The second story shows how Jane who is traveling with her husband Thomas, in his brother's yacht. She is a photographer on assignment about the place where the women were murdered, years ago, is lured to the subject matter she is photographing, and makes the discovery of the truth. Her own relationship with her husband Thomas is a troubled one. They are doomed as a couple, one can only see the way he leers after his brother's girlfriend as she parades almost naked in the pleasure boat they are spending time. In the novel the tension comes across much deeply than what one sees in the movie.

The amusing thing about the film is that the secondary story is more interesting than the present one. Thus, the luminous Sarah Polley, who plays Maren in the secondary tale, makes a deep impression, as does the accused man, Louis Wagner, who is portrayed by Ciaran Hands. Sean Penn, comes across as somehow stiff as Thomas. The wonderful Katrin Cartlidge is totally wasted.

The film has elicited bad comments in this forum, but it's not the bad movie some people are trying to say it is. Better yet, read Ms. Shreve's novel as it is more satisfying than what came out in this movie version.

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USA | Canada | France



Release Date:

31 July 2002 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

The Weight of Water See more »


Box Office


$16,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$45,888, 3 November 2002

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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