The presence of sexual filth in Quills is not a part of the screenplay as much as it is merely a means to an end for the director to be able to show something entertaining on screen, and that is its downfall.
With that lovely picture in mind, travel back to the Napoleonic Age where Marquis de Sade is in an insane asylum, yet still smuggling his pornographic filth out to publishers via a laundrywoman. Now picture Geoffrey Rush as de Sade and Kate Winslet as the chambermaid.
Quills has received some excellent reviews, being referred to as one of the best movies of 2000. I don't know what movie the 'larger' critics were watching, because, aside from a lot of talent shoved into a small, dark film, there is not much besides a lot of empty shadows. The movie is not as much a biography as it is a morality tale, and that is okay except for it does not do a very good job doing it. What is the meaning of the movie? Is literary censorship bad? Do we all go a little crazy? Is sex the best way to keep audiences entertained? I really don't know what this movie is driving at, because it has so many contradicting messages.
I will note the good things about the movie: Screenplay, acting, and Joaquin Phoenix. The dialogue between characters is superb to say the least, especially out of the lips of Rush, who pulls off some very disgusting lines with the grace of an upper class gentleman. Of course, I'm sure some of the lines are pulled from de Sade's real works, but they are incorporated nicely. Geoffrey Rush himself does an excellent job, even if his character (Marquis de Sade) is rather obnoxious at times. Kate Winslet continues to keep to the smaller movies, smartly, and once again pulls off a good performance (does every good performance for her, though, require her breasts to be filmed?). Michael Caine also is quite convincing. But then there is Joaquin Phoenix, who really steals the show. He is the abbot, the man in charge of the asylum, and through his eyes we get to see the descent of everything. But on merely the surface level, he delivers a performance equal to that of Gladiator, if not better.
Unfortunately, Quills loses pace, loses the audience, and loses my patience (well, I lost my patience but it sounded better that other way). It really lags in parts, but is not ever really boring. The problem is that it does have some sexually explicit scenes that may run in tandem with Marquis de Sade's writing, but not with the movie itself. The whole movie is sexually charged, and that isn't always the best way to a good movie. More importantly, though, is the character of Marquis de Sade himself. Geoffrey Rush does a good job (earned him an Oscar nomination) but the character is really psychotic at times, maybe overly so. I was under the impression that this author was in an insane asylum because Napoleon didn't like him more than anything else, yet Rush acts like a madman most of the time (and sometimes quite civil). His character is erratic at best, and it is very irritating to watch.
Dark movies are good once in a while and Quills is definitely dark, but how dark should a movie go? Maybe a better way of putting the question is, How dark can a movie go before losing large segments of its audience? Its skillful use of talent might have excited some of the critics that are so tired of seeing Hollywood filth (of course, I am, too, judging by the 2001 summer season so far), but I am not impressed. When Quills' credits start to roll, I'm sure most people are appalled by the way it turned out. I was a little disturbed, but more than anything just annoyed that Quills was chosen to end this way.
Quills is worth watching for the merits of its actors, but that is about all it is worth for.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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