Friday, March 27, 2009

A Frank Review of "Quills" (2000)

The Short Version? The definer of sadism taunts authority from an asylum.
What Is It? Period Dramedy.
Who's In It? Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, & Michael Caine.
Should I See It? Yes.

At the heart of Quills is a rather disturbing point; that art can indeed inspire evil, yet must still refuse responsibility for its misdeeds to service the greater good. It's a tale of common people with undesirable lives enlivened by the deviance of the Marquis de Sade. The film is intended as a fable, and is therefore far from historically accurate, but a wicked delight nonetheless.

The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has evaded execution after the French Revolution by getting himself committed to an asylum. He benefits from the liberal policies of the institutions director, the Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) until Napoleon gets wind he's still getting his deviant work published with the aide of the wash maid Madeleine LeClerc(Kate Winslet.) This brings down the oversight of Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine,) a man whose callous methods puts the Marquis' pretend sadism to shame. The Marquis strains at his leash, while Maddy makes the padre's collar chafe, sending the madhouse dangerously close to a fever pitch.

The performances across the board are spectacular, even if the casting is completely inappropriate when compared to the historical figures. Winslet is far too mature to play a girl not yet out of her teens, and Phoenix is about as removed from a middle aged hunchback as one can imagine. However, these characters are not meant to be biographical, but allegorical. The material originated as a play, and retains that feel, remaining a modern morality play for a preferably polluted crowd. Doug Wright's script begs for personal interpretation and debate, but not during its running time, when one is expected to be transfixed by its deviant charm, as well as its serpentine shifts in plot and tone. This is an adult cinematic experience, surprisingly light on graphic sex, more concerned with engaging the mind and emotions. By the end, viewers have trod a grim path, but its difficult to leave without a smile.

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