Casanova, or more acurately, Lasse Hallström’s continuing adventures in mediocrity, is something of a castrated beast. For any sense of passion that was present in its production clearly departed somewhere between “Action” and projection. It’s promotion has been playful, calling it a “partially true story”, but that sense of fun, which the film tries admirably to generate, fails to hide its many flaws.
The Swedish director has no trouble in provoking his actors to good performances; Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and The Shipping News are testament to that. But they similarly exemplify his inability to compose a tight and focused tale. The same is true of Casanova.
Things begin unpromisingly, with a tried and tested ‘old man retells adventures’ opening, as the aged Casanova puts the finishing touches to his memoirs – “ten thousand pages; that’s about one woman per page”. Immediately the action moves into an 18th century Venetian convent, where Casanova (Heath Ledger), now twentysomething, is about to be caught mid-nun-seduction by the fearsome Inquisiton, and thus propelled into a series of events that will ultimately end in true love with Francesca (Sienna Miller), an intelligent and beautiful crusader for women’s rights (this is the 21st century, after all, kind of).
The plot that unfolds apes Shakespearian farces, with mistaken identity, women disguised as men, and much low comedy, which for the first two thirds is rather entertaining. But too many characters are introduced, some needlessly (Chief Inquisitor Ken Stott is rather rudely replaced by Jeremy Irons halfway through. Why not have Irons as the baddie from the start?), which leads to a conclusion that is not only unsure whether it’s going for swashbuckling action or heartfelt romance, but is also desperately trying to tie up at least three too many storylines.
Which would all be forgivable if the eponymous central figure had the charisma and dynamism to pull the audience through, wooing the ladies and impressing the gents, as Casanova really should. But Ledger, who so perfectly portrayed repressed passion in Brokeback Mountain, is not up to the job. He is a good actor, and very watchable, but his Casanova is nothing special. He talks and acts as if bedding women is his day job, and he’d really rather relax with a cup of tea. Is this the demeanour of one who’s very presence causes virgins to tremble with anticipation? It doesn’t quite ring true.
There are some good things to be said for the film though. 18th century Venice is evocatively recreated, and beautifully shot. Hallström clearly enjoys handling a multiplicity of characters, and while this leads to overlong and overcomplex stories, it also means support players like Omid Djalili and Oliver Platt impress in smaller roles. Best of all is Sienna Miller who, after catching the eye in Layer Cake, has recently made more of an impression in the tabloids than on the big screen. Her performance here is a reminder that she’s a very good actress, and hopefully an indicator of better things to come, in better films than this.
Last modified on