Sunday, December 17, 2006

Film Review: "Venus"

My neighbor George Bane said he had seen "Venus" the night before and said: "Peter O'Toole gave a very brave performance."

I didn't know what he meant until I saw it.

Peter O'Toole was/is one the greatest film actors of the latter half of the 20th Century: "Lawrence of Arabia", "Lion in Winter", "Becket"--these are only a very few of his brilliant performances. But once I saw "Venus" I knew exactly what my neighbor meant. In "Venus" O'Toole (now in his 70s, 80's?) plays an aging (but still active ) working actor who falls in lust/love with a very, very young woman/girl...very, very young woman/girl...and is willing to reveal in his performance that he is old, and that his aged body is desperately and often sadly in need of the regenerative juice that contact with a young woman provides. This revelation of deep human truth (age and need) is brave for O'Toole--anyone for that matter-- to admit; and to reveal it as fully as O'Toole reveals it in his performance is a towering and memorable act of self-discovery, confession and bravery. ("Dirty old man" is a cliche because it is so true. After all, what is a cliche but a truth that is so well known that we get bored by it. But Peter O'Toole takes the 'dirty old man' cliche, and expands upon it, deepens it, lives it at such a vibrant and intense and subtle level that he lifts this worn cliche to a work of art. He is diabolical, candid, poignant, sad, tragic, original, comic, masterful, all at the same time...and thereby becomes an old man for all time.)

The film is filled with other wonderful performances including Jodie Whittaker as 'the young girl', (attractive without being glamorous, sexy without being 'in your face' about it, carrying a young body thankfully not too sculpted by too many gym visits), Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths as two old men-friends of O'Toole's, and finally, especially and forever, Vanessa Redgrave, who plays O'Toole's formerly abandoned ex-wife-but-now-aging-friend-and-eventual-lover, a reminder that great performances is always a matter of talent and not role-size. She and O'Toole together remind me of Olivier and Hepburn in "Love Among the Ruins", beautiful and elegant; lovers for the ages.

The film itself is not great; the story is often predictable, slow and sometimes plodding. But don't miss it: Truth, like museums, needs never be rushed. Greatness lives in its own time dimension, and the span of events and information between youth and age is arbitrary and fleeting, relative and absolute at the same time...and ultimately outside the purview of linear judgment. To watch O'Toole is proof that great acting is never locked into it's own time period, in fact, that is the very core of immortality, like truth, it is beyond while simultaneously embracing, all time.


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