Leonardo Di Caprio is holding a royal flush. Lavished with praise by critics, praised by lavish beauties in the tabloids and now enjoying the success of Romeo And Juliet, he is inches from being a bona fide movie idol. Yet this painfully dull biography of celebrated French poet Arthur Rimbaud has dealt him a joker in an otherwise brilliant winning hand.
Set in a rotting 1800s Paris, respected poet Verlaine (Thewlis) meets Rimbaud (Di Caprio). Though shocked to find him a mere teenager with the manners of a pig, Verlaine falls for his dangerous lifestyle and brilliant poetics, and together they hotfoot it across Europe living the bourgeois life everyone now expects from undiscovered geniuses.
Although Rimbaud is regarded as a revolutionary French poet, Christopher Hampton's abrasive script, adapted from his own stage play, ignores Rimbaud's achievements in favour of his juicy personal life, namely an addiction to opium, violent mood swings and his torrid love affair with Verlaine.
Though well directed, Thewlis and Di Caprio simply do not gel (John Malkovich and River Phoenix were the original cast choices), the latter is too hyperactive in delivery, the former too static in expression. There are some fine observations on the providence of life, but the viewer is left asking how a sulking brat became a cornerstone of French literature, and a recurring theme of destiny sits uncomfortably with such a stubbornly obvious plot. The final result is not so much a total eclipse as a total blackout.