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Quills (2000)

  Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: Doug Wright
Starring: Michael Caine, Joaquin Phoenix, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet
Links: Quills on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 9.00 (2 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 14th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

"Ink and Incapability" - a review by mino

Quills, a movie tackling a semi-imaginary account of the life of everyone's favourite deviate, the Marquis de Sade (the man with so many kinks, they named one after him!), could very easily have been a deliberately confrontational, but ultimately content-free and meaningless excuse to throw together some sex and violence on screen and call it a film.

Luckily, it's much more than that. Quills is an intelligent, fascinating, thought-provoking movie (but not an overly airy-fairy one) which details a fascinating set of interplays between the Marquis himself, a chambermaid at the asylum he calls home, the asylum's director (a kind and caring priest who believes in ‘humane’ treatment for his patients), and the radical doctor Napoleon brings in to make sure the Marquis is ‘cured’ of his ‘illness’ after he publishes a particularly inflammatory novel from inside the asylum. De Sade wants to be left alone, the chambermaid wants him to keep publishing, the abbé wants to be able to continue treating de Sade in his own way, and the doctor wants to impose his will on all of them — and everyone else. Conflict's bound to ensue, and the way it does so is great to watch.

While the story of Quills is great, it's the fabbo acting performances that make it exceptional. Words can barely describe Geoffrey Rush's performance as the Marquis — he absolutely makes the role his own, combining genius and madness in just the right proportions to make for a character you genuinely don't know whether to love or hate, exactly what is required in this movie. Kate Winslet turns in a fine performance indeed as the chambermaid (I've never really rated Winslet very highly as an actor; this is one of her best performances though), and Joaquin Phoenix is great as the bashful but surprisingly strong-willed priest, once you get over the fact that he still looks creepy even when he's, for once, not playing a creepy role. Both Phoenix and Winslet, in fact, are to be praised for playing fairly outrageous roles in a just-understated-enough fashion, something they're not always capable of. Rounding out the great cast is Michael Caine, who is perfectly suited to the role of the autocratic doctor, possibly because it's not that great a departure from his usual roles — but let's not split hairs, eh?

Also noteworthy is the performance by Rush's real-life wife, Jane Menelaus, as the wife of the Marquis, a woman who lives in shame and disgust at what her marriage to this ‘pervert’ has done to her standing in French society. It's only a small role, but the subplot involving her is truly fascinating and I would perhaps have liked to have seen more of it.

The movie does have its downsides, though: while it's a beautiful looking film, and the mood of the asylum is captured perfectly, director Philip Kaufman does resort to some very annoying ‘Stupid Director Tricks’ for no other reason than because he can, which are surprisingly very annoying (the old ‘torn up pieces of fluttering paper drifting into focus’ trick, for example; please). I found most of the ending both terribly predictable and way too ‘cute’, and the movie suffers terribly from one of my pet hates — inappropriate period accents. Why, exactly, does every character in the movie have a British accent, when it's set in revolutionary France? It's like ‘it's period, so it will need accents, but French ones are too hard — let's just make everyone British’. Either do the right accent, or don't do one at all. Though, to be fair, they may well have made everyone British to stop Michael Caine standing out — let's face it, I'm not sure he's a man who can ‘do’ accents.

Anyway, quibbles aside, Quills is a fine fine movie which introduces some rather confrontational ideas without being overly sensationalist or ‘grubby’. A great story with some great subplots and some delightful acting. All available thumbs pointed upwards.

mino gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 19 Jan 2005

"I can't look away..." - a review by pearly

When I first saw Quills, I was shocked by the opening scene. Not shocked in a "they shouldn't be allowed to show that sort of thing" way, more in the sense that it was a really powerful opening to a movie. This disguise of lust being placed over such a gruesome occurence. It made me feel a bit sick in the stomach, but that image stayed with me. In fact, it's gotta be in my top ten Bits-of-a-movie-that-Nic-remembers list. So, coming to watch it again, I wondered how big the impact would be upon repeat viewing. And it's still just as big - it's such an appropriate way to start the movie that Quills is.

It's set in the late 18th century, and focuses on The Marquis de Sade; it is a blend of truth and fiction. Locked in a mental institution run by naive Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), Marquis writes about the things he cannot have (sex, mainly), and secretly passes them to a publisher via the girl that does his laundry, Madeleine (Kate Winslet). But when Emperor Napoleon is read a part of one of his stories, he sends Dr Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to the asylum to fix the situation.

Quills is successful mainly due to the superb actors. Seriously. I don't think there's a bad performance in it, and even though I probably say this about lots of films, this time I mean it. Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Marquis, gives one of his best performances ever - and that's saying something. He captures an essence of simultaneous madness and scholarliness in a way that no other actor I can think of would be able to. And Rush is ably assisted. Winslet, who is perfectly built to play a young woman from this era, can thankfully also act. Phoenix and Caine play off one another, in a sort of good cop / bad cop duo, with Abbe keen to rehabilitate the Marquis, whilst the good doctor would not be unhappy if he were somehow "accidentally" killed.

You've gotta give mad props to Doug Wright, who wrote the screenplay for Quills. The storyline is brilliant, from the shocking start that I talked about before, to the ironic ending, and all the bits in between. As a bonus, something that I usually don't particularly notice, but that was quite clearly done well in Quills was the costuming. Rush in particular looked amazing in his extravagant suits, and offset against the plain attire of Abbe, the costumes subtly illustrated the differences between the two people.

Certainly not one for a Friday night out and a few laughs and beers with your mates, but Quills, when viewed in the right mood, is sure to be appreciated.

pearly gives this movie 9 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 28 Oct 2003

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 9.00
Lowest rating: 9 (by mino, pearly)
Highest rating: 9 (by mino, pearly)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. A brilliant movie, good on you Geoffrey.

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Adam ( on Thu 30 Oct 2003 14:28 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 9.00 (1 rating)

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