2005, R, 108 min. Directed by Lasse Hallström. Starring Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Platt, Lena Olin, Omid Djalili.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Jan. 6, 2006
Hallström’s latest is fine but unambitious, content with what it is – an arthouse trifle for the masses, with tricornered hats, corsets, and powdered wigs, a charming re-creation of 1750s Venice, musings on horseback about true and false love, a semihistorical basis, and ever so many ostensibly delightful romantic misapprehensions. Its characters do not have elaborately developed inner lives: They are the Prissy One (Natalie Dormer); the Lovelorn Guy Who Sits in the Window (Charlie Cox, who is evidently a popular beefcake in the UK); the Fat Dude from Genoa who sells lard, of course (poor Platt); the Hot Widow (Olin); the Righteous Chick (Miller). And then there’s the real guy, Casanova (Ledger). And the seething Bishop Pucci (Irons), who wants Casanova executed for fornication and heresy or something. There you go. Mix and match and you’ll probably arrive at a close approximation of the story, which is one of those complex but boring parlor farce thingies. Aspects of the production are awfully PBS, and Hallström’s direction is as sunny and bland as K-TEL. But he’s still wonderful with his actors, and the ensemble cast is excellent, although Miller seems perilously unproven in this company. Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) inhabits the role of history’s famed horndog with ease and obvious delight. He’s the kind of damnable bastard women like because something indescribable in our brains, else our loins, makes us like him even though he is clearly a Very Bad Idea – smug, lying with a smile, has lots of aliases. Best is Ledger’s interplay with his valet, played by British-Iranian comic Omid Djalili, who is a lovely, Fellini-esque foil. (They are the real couple in the film.) His name isn’t on the poster, but Djalili far outshines big-ticket Irons, who’s so cartoonishly evil that the movie actually appears to be bilking the Inquisition for brainless laughs. (Mel Brooks, on the other hand, isn’t brainless.) I’m confident that I won’t see two actors work together onscreen this beautifully for the rest of the year, and certainly not in a comedy. The standout star is Platt, who takes his schlemiel fat-guy role and becomes a grand, ursine figure who believably slaps down the Pope Squad effortlessly in fight scenes; he’s ruthlessly ribbed for his weight as if the very concept of fat people who don’t look like supermodels is the funniest thing ever, but he’s so warm and real, like his heart is beating through his chest, that he can’t be squeezed into a crude gag. (Nobody makes a schlemiel out of Platt.) Hallström’s camera only comes to life during Platt’s transformation, depicting him with the backlit grandeur and stately composition of his character’s commissioned portrait. We see him just as the woman (Olin, Hallström’s obviously cherished wife) who falls in love with him sees him. In these scenes there’s so much said – visually and dramatically – about love that it’s a shame the characters are kept so busy elsewhere publishing pamphlets (onscreen pamphleteering is really the cheapest form of exposition) and tumbling comically into canals.