The most notorious lover of ladies finally meets his match, in one of the most brilliant women of her time.
18th century Venice. Celebrated rake Giacomo Casanova (Ledger) has deflowered one nun too many for the local inquisitors, and there’s only so many times his friend the Doge (Tim McInnerny) can help him. So Dogey gives him an ultimatum: find a wife and settle down, or be exiled. Enter fiesty proto-feminist Francesca (Miller).
There’s nothing wrong with a good old period romp. You know — heaving bosoms, ceiling-scraping wigs, whip-cracks, glove-slaps, rapier-clashes at dawn, breathless love, a smack of the thigh and a swash of the buckle. Problem is, despite its seemingly spotless pedigree, a good old period romp Casanova ain’t. Sure, all of the above feature heavily. Almost too heavily. It’s as if the writers thought they’d be flunked by the big screenwriting exam board if they failed to cover everything on the cliché curriculum. Well, they don’t quite flunk, but quality being more important than quantity, they merely scrape a C —.
Lasse Hallström, a director more used to creaking out hefty, Oscar-drawing dramas for the Weinsteins, doesn’t fare much better. In terms of tone, the nearest this comes to is 2000’s whimsical Chocolat, but Hallström deliberately pastes it broader than that, slopping out something that, at best, recalls Richard ‘The Three Musketeers’ Lester during his klutzier moments, and at worst lurches around like a Carry On film.
This is undoubtedly an attractive movie — Venice is, of course, a beautiful city and Hallström washes it in an alluring, magic-hour glow, while leading couple Ledger and Sienna Miller are hardly tough on the eyeballs. It’s not without its giggles, either; between them, Oliver Platt’s corpulent-but-sensitive lard merchant and Jeremy Irons’ chief inquisitor leave no scenery unchewed. But Hallström aims for a Shakespearean comedy feel that, frankly, often doesn’t work in Shakespearean comedy (example: women disguised as men — fair enough on the Elizabethan stage, but never works on screen; here we get Sienna Miller in a ’tache. Twice). Certainly, it’s inadvisable to even attempt it unless you’re giving the Bard himself a credit.
Meanwhile, the roof-hopping, blade-swishing scenes feel forced and clipped, while much of the physical comedy is embarrassingly overplayed (especially by new boy Charlie Cox, who evidently couldn’t do slapstick if you slapped him with a stick). You can’t help but feel bad for Ledger and Miller, neither of whom gets much screentime for a lead character — blame the surfeit of supports and convoluted-farce plotting. Miller impresses, but mainly because she resists becoming too lost in the mix. As for Ledger, the past six months have seen him graduate to the awards-consideration A-list. Already, this kind of movie seems beneath him — no wonder he looks so bored.
Occasionally fun, always pretty, completely a mess, Casanova never quite finds its footing.