The Affair Of The Necklace

"Bad"

The Affair Of The Necklace Review


American filmmakers have a tendency to over-think their historical period pictures. They ply costume dramas with grandiose imagery, tediously over-written dialog and gratingly over-scored soundtracks in the hopes of overwhelming an audience with a sense of antiquity. And their actors -- especially their American actors -- often seem uncomfortable and incongruous.

Even when such films turn out well, there's always something awkward about them. Think of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Age of Innocence," Andy Tennant's "Anna and the King" or Steven Spielberg's "Amistad" -- all too conspicuously theatrical to be genuinely transporting and/or saddled with one or two actors who are amiss just enough to stand out.

But when such films turn out badly, they turn out like "The Affair of the Necklace," a discombobulated, transparently fictionalized French Revolutionary melodrama about an orphaned, impoverished aristocrat conspiring against the crown to restore her family name and property.

Hilary Swank -- turning 180 degrees from her Oscar-winning role as a delicately chiseled Nebraska transvestite in "Boys Don't Cry" -- is the movie's best asset. She plays with passion, beauty and conviction this outcast blue blood named Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, whose exploits contributed in no small part to the downfall of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

When she was a child, Jeanne's anti-monarchy father was murdered and his lands were usurped by the king. Now in her 20s and in a marriage of convenience to a dubiously-titled count (Adrien Brody), she has been biding her time on the fringes of the Royal Court, plotting and trying to gain favor with anyone of influence.

But director Charles Shyer (who's previous films have all been light fare like "Baby Boom" and the "Father of the Bride" remakes) is so hung up on making Jeanne sympathetic that her ensuing deceptions have no deliciousness. Instead of embracing her machinations (a la "Dangerous Liaisons") Shyer counters every lie, every duplicity with a moment of insistent earnestness -- and the two personality traits never mesh, despite Swank's best efforts.

Aided and abetted for no discernable reason by a roguish, rather fey chevalier/gigolo (Simon Baker), Jeanne concocts a complex and risky scheme around the most ostentatious piece of jewelry in French history -- a 2,800-carat, 647-diamond necklace. Her plan is to trick a crooked cardinal (Jonathan Pryce, gnawing on scenery like he's been transplanted from the same role in a "Three Musketeers" picture) into buying the necklace, thinking he's doing so on Marie Antoinette's behalf. The power-hungry priest has been on the outs with the queen and he'll do anything to suck up to her.

But the bobble was commissioned for the mistress of the king's father -- before she was banished from court -- and therefore Antoinette (played as a spoiled woman-child by Joely Richardson) wants nothing to do with it. This is a fact that Jeanne leaves out of the equation while pretending to be the queen's messenger to the cardinal.

How any of this gets Jeanne closer to regaining her title and lands is not at all clear. Neither is what role the ensuing scandal played in the French Revolution, other than making Marie Antoinette look greedy when a twisted version of the facts comes to light after Jeanne is arrested.

As a result of trying to fill in the movie's gaping holes in your own mind, a slew of other questions arise and it's not long before you can't help but be watching for mistakes. How can the cardinal be convinced his relationship with Antoinette is on the mend when he most certainly sees her in church and get a cold reception? How do Jeanne and the gigolo (who seems quite clearly gay until, out of nowhere, the two have a torrid love scene) fake Antoinette's handwriting on letters to the Cardinal? How and where did they acquire the royal seal to stamp said letters?

A myriad of other narrative conundrums arise over the course of the picture (gauging the passage of time is a real challenge throughout the film). But where Shyer really fails the audience is in cutting down his heroine's eventual trial -- potentially a great source of drama and his last opportunity to clarify the baffling story -- to nothing but a montage sequence.

At its best "The Affair of the Necklace" might make you yearn to read a book or find a French film on the same subject to get at the intricacies of these events without the cosmetic eloquence, the questionable performances and elementary filmmaking. At its worst, Shyer's direction is so uncouth that he cuts away to flashbacks (that we've already seen) of little Jeanne watching her father killed, rather than showing the emotions of the memory play across Swank's incredibly expressive face.

A true talent, Swank emerges from the film unscathed in spite of her character's gross inconsistency. Here's hoping this doesn't send her career crashing back into the B-movie doldrums from whence she came.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 118 mins

In Theaters: Friday 30th November 2001

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Production compaines: Alcon Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 52

IMDB: 6.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Jeanne St. Remy de Valois, as Rétaux de Vilette, as Count Cagliostro, as Young Jeanne, as Cardinal Louis de Rohan, as Count Nicolas De La Motte, as Minister Breteuil, as Marie-Antoinette, Simon Shackleton as Louis XVI

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.