Naomi Watts doesn’t invoke Greta Garbo in director John Curran’s The Painted Veil, an adaptation of the 1925 W. Somerset Maugham novel that previously made it to the screen in 1934 as a glamorous Garbo vehicle (and again in 1957 under the title The Seventh Sin). That’s probably a good thing. Curran’s version remains relatively faithful to its 1920s-set source material, recounting with stately precision the tumultuous marriage of introverted Shanghai-located bacteriologist Walter Fane (Edward Norton) and spoiled rich girl Kitty (Watts), a union based upon his genuine (if foolish) love and her need to escape her parents, and torn asunder by her affair with a married English businessman (Liev Schreiber). In revenge for Kitty’s infidelity, Walter forces his wife to accompany him on a volunteer mission to a Chinese countryside town beset by a cholera epidemic, though as in Maugham’s novel, this spiteful act – more selfish than imperialist – eventually sets them both on the path toward spiritual, sexual and romantic renewal. Curran’s film is intermittently culturally insensitive, its Chinese characters – from those working in the fields and dying of cholera to the army chief (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) who becomes Walter’s unlikely ally – given far less depth and nuance (but not, it must be said, more ugliness) than their British counterparts, who also include Deputy Commissioner Waddington (Infamous’ Toby Jones) and the Christian convent’s Mother Superior (Diana Rigg). The Painted Veil’s somewhat cursory use of East-West political tensions as an exotic backdrop for a story of love’s destruction and renewal is, however, ultimately less detrimental than its absence of blistering heat, with Walter and Kitty’s thorny relationship – despite being soundly dramatized by a cool Norton and bitter Watts – lacking an essential, gripping spark of self-destructiveness and ardor.