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Tuesday, December 25, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Uneven, but talented actors pull off 'Affair'

Seattle Times movie critic

"The Affair of the Necklace"


**
With Hilary Swank, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Baker, Adrien Brody. Directed by Charles Shyer, from a screenplay by John Sweet. 120 minutes. Rated R for some sexuality. Broadway Market.
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Based on a true story of intrigue and scandal in 18th-century France, "The Affair of the Necklace" offers a thoroughly odd batch of performances from a talented acting ensemble. Director Charles Shyer appears to have abdicated, and the actors are all over the map — some going over the top, others overly restrained.

The result is a mess, but a fairly enjoyable one, with some gorgeous period detail.

Hilary Swank, as the ambitious young countess who learns that diamonds are a girl's best friend, looks the most lost; she's a marvelous performer who's been sadly misdirected or not directed here. She speaks her lines slowly, with a weird semi-British accent. The performance grows on you, though, and by the end of the film she shows some of the resoluteness that made her so affecting in "Boys Don't Cry."

Several of the actors, though, clearly have decided to have a little fun. Adrien Brody, playing a no-account count, channels John Malkovich's reptilian decadence from "Dangerous Liaisons," doing everything but waggle his tongue. (He's got a moment with a gooey-centered chocolate that's so unsubtle it's hilarious.) Christopher Walken, with a swoony French accent, stalks and glowers as a pompous Svengali; Jonathan Pryce is leeringly silly as a debauched cardinal, giving "religious tutorials" to heaving-bosomed women.

"The Affair of the Necklace" isn't much use as history: Shyer uses an odd voice-over (by Brian Cox) that sounds like some sort of 18th-century television announcer, and the willowy Joely Richardson, as Marie Antoinette, mostly wafts about with her chin in the air. Pity, though — she's missing some gorgeous Aubusson rugs. Watch the film for them or for Milena Canonero's lace-encrusted costumes or for the elegant sets — or for the trashy pleasure of watching actors unleashed.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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