Some parts of the plot are a little heavy-handed; Quills doesn't always handle its subplots with the most subtlety or grace. The hypocrisy of characters like Michael Caine is blatant, yes, and we know we need to hate him for it. Couldn't they have been a little more discreet with all this? If you're sitting through Quills, you're probably not that much of an idiot.
This is a pretty minor complaint in light of the rest of the film, with is done superbly. Rich characters and dialogue create an incredibly immersive atmosphere, fraught with danger and ever-present menace. Geoffrey Rush is like a prototype Hannibal Lecter, except without the eating people part (though I'm sure he'd give it a try).
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Rush is cast as the Marquis de Sade with luscious care. Rush is a great character actor and relishes the 19th century bad boy with glee. The problem with 'Quills' is that the film portrays de Sade as nothing more than the Larry Flint of the 1800s. Rush is trapped in a crampt cell for the entire film, which plunges the film further into mediocrity. Winslet and Phoenix have fine supporting roles as first hand revelers of de Sade's dirty words. The film portrays the bad boy as a free speech martyr and explains that the reason he's locked away in an asylum is because people didn't like what he had to say. The Marquis de Sade was locked away because he liked to mutilate and torture women. Consider the history of 'Quills' in the same grain-of-salt vein of 'The Hurricane'. A little tweek here, a little tweek there. The movie even has to make de Sade a sort of hero by introducing an even meaner "bad guy" with Michael Caine. 'Quills' is long and incomprehensibly thoughtless in its history. What was the National Board of Review thinking?![/color][/font]
[font=Arial][color=darkred]Nate's Grade: C- [/color][/font]
Rush was exceptional, which resulted in nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. About the factual inaccuracies, writers said they were not making a biography of de Sade, but exploring issues such as censorship, pornography, sex, art, mental illness, and religion... but somehow they managed to do all that simplifying de Sade's complex life!
Overall experience was positive, and you could enjoy this R rated movie if you are ready to accept that most of it is a product of imagination, not real events.
The film's take on de Sade is fascinating. It portrays a man that is relentless in his quest to spread his vile writings, with Geoffrey Rush giving a very fine performance. We see a self obsessed, driven, but certainly psychotic man. The film uses this to examine themes of expression and moral ambiguity, which I appreciated. It's also matched with equally strong performances by Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and, above all, Michael Caine.
Where the film becomes frustrating, however, is in the supporting characters. Their actions never seem believable, and are frustratingly irrational. It's as if they are acting as they would in the mind of de Sade, without any respect to the actual context of the situation. Their character arcs don't feel organic to the events that are transpiring, making the film often disengaging and hard to watch. This is especially true of Kate Winslet's character, whose fascination with de Sade is never fully explored, and with Phoenix's character, who is simply written as an ignorant, highly emotional, and weak man. The themes the film brings up are interesting, but without other dynamic characters to compliment Rush, it's of no use.
The dramatic action of Quills never seems to culminate in anything. There's interesting points, but to no real payoff to them. Overall, there's enough here to hold your interest, with a good premise, but a frustrating execution.