‘Venus’ movie review: Peter O’Toole dominates distant drama

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A towering, deservedly-praised Peter O´Toole performance is the sole reason to see Roger Michell´s Venus, a strangely distant and ultimately disappointing look at lust in the later years of life.

O´Toole plays Maurice, a lonely, aging actor dying of prostate cancer who spends much of his time with friend and fellow actor Ian (Leslie Stevens). Into their lives comes Ian´s niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), who can kindly be described as brash and disrespectful.

Ian wants nothing to do with her, but our Maurice sees something in her, and thus begins the problem – Jessie is so rude, annoying and unpleasant, that we side with Ian – we simply don´t like her.

Poor Whittaker attempts to dominate the screen with twentysomething hysteria while O´Toole has already grabbed our attention with a quiet dignity; scenes between the two are unpleasant, but not for the intended reasons – the 50-year age difference is fine, but can´t he find a nicer girl?

Film is at its best during scenes of banter between the aging actors, or scenes between Maurice and ex-wife Vanessa Redgrave, during which O´Toole finally has a suitable actress to play off of.

But a film about lust should leave the audience as lustful as its lead, and have an object worth lusting over (I´m thinking of, say, Bo Derek in 10); Jodie Whittaker – a fine actress, perhaps – is not that object.

This is not Harold and Maude, nor a story about love or affection; O´Toole plays a dirty old man and he plays it to perverted perfection.

If only we could identify with his dirty old mind. That the film itself doesn´t live up to the standards of its lead performance is the likely reason that O´Toole still doesn´t have an Oscar.

A disappointment from director Michell, who explored similar themes with greater success in The Mother. See Manoel de Oliviera´s I´m Going Home for a much more affecting portrait of an aging actor.

Venus

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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