The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: This romantic crime drama may not be to everyone's taste, but The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is an audacious, powerful film.

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Movie Info

This is probably Peter Greenaway's most famous (or infamous) film, which first shocked audiences at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival and then on both sides of the Atlantic. A gang leader (Michael Gambon), accompanied by his wife (Helen Mirren) and his associates, entertains himself every night in a fancy French restaurant that he has recently bought. Having tired of her sadistic, boorish husband, the wife finds herself a lover (Alan Howard) and makes love to him in the restaurant's coziest places with the silent permission of the cook (Richard Bohringer). Though less cerebral than Greenaway's other films, featuring deadly passions reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedies of the early 17th century, the picture still offers the director's usual ironic and paradoxical comments on the relations between eating and sex, love and death. The film is at once funny and horrific, and those who are not used to Greenaway's peculiar style might be even disgusted or shocked; however, one might mention Sacha Vierny's brilliant camerawork, Jean-Paul Gaultier's gaudily stylized costumes, and Michael Nyman's somber, pulsating music, which will haunt the viewer long after the film's end. ~ Yuri German, Rovi

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Critic Reviews for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (8)

Albert is one of the ugliest characters ever brought to the screen. Ignorant, over-bearing and violent, it's a gloriously rich performance by Gambon.

Oct 18, 2008 | Full Review…
Variety
Top Critic

For a Jacobean-style drama about deadly emotions, the film lacks passion; only in the final half-hour, with Michael Nyman's funereal music supplying a welcome gravity, does it at last exert a stately power.

Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

A work so intelligent and powerful that it evokes our best emotions and least civil impulses, so esthetically brilliant that it expands the boundaries of film itself.

May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/4

Taboos? If director Peter Greenaway has any, you can't tell by this film.

Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…

Give or take another masterpiece coming down the pike, this intricately assembled, viscerally provocative tract on consumerism gone full and grisly circle, is without a doubt, the most accomplished, astounding film of the year.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Greenaway, the bemused, coolly ironic truth-teller, has painted a cruel portrait for a cruel time.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

A gorgeous and stylized gem that will prove to be of hard digestion (yes, pun intended) for many viewers, but those with an open mind will find a lot more to it than "just" a magnificent score, cinematography, art direction and costume design (the game of colors is fantastic).

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

½

Poetic justice never felt quite as satisfyingly disgusting as in this antinomic and mesmerizing fable. the stench of vulgarity and violence pours out from a rich and colorful canvas in bursts of passion, horror and laughter. Anything goes.

Pierluigi Puccini
Pierluigi Puccini

Super Reviewer

½

At first viewing of Peter Greenaway The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover I immediately realize that it's a powerful, visual film that uses each scene to really elevate the film's story. This is a blistering drama with some standout performances, and it's in the cast that makes for a truly engaging experience. The film tells a well constructed story that is fairly simple, but is engaging enough to be entertained for two hours. Michael Gambon delivers a performance that is intoxicating, and is a tremendous villain the film. The rest of the cast terrific as well and with that being said, each of them makes a truly unique contribution to Peter Greenaway's blistering and unforgettable tale. In terms of dramatic storytelling, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover tells a very good story, added with performances that really stand out, this is a very good film, but not one that is truly remarkable either. The cast make this film work and worth investing your time. Peter Greenaway's direction is dark and atmospheric and it adds so much to the film's story. The climax of the film is great as well, but like I said, it's not perfect, but for the most part, it works simply because of its cast that delivers some standout performances that truly bring out the best out of the film. I really enjoyed the film and I thought that despite a few flaws, this film is worth seeing, and if you enjoy a good story line matched with very good performance, then this film is a definite must watch for genre fans. I really enjoyed Greenaway's style and with that being said, he is able to take a simple idea, and make something truly elaborate in terms of cinematic vision. The film's biggest imperfection is the slow pacing the film, which may displease some, but to those that want a riveting drama, then The Cook, The Thief, his wife and her lover is a very good drama worth seeing despite its limitations.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer

This is a film I hadn't watched in a while and I have to say after I pulled out my DVD and took a look at the film again it still hasn't lost any of its power. 'The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover' is a film that doesn't fit into one certain genre, its part black comedy, part crime thriller, part horror, part film-noir. It is about about four twisted characters and a series of events that play out over an entire week. The owner of a French restaurant, Albert Spica(the thief), occupies it daily in order to stuff his face and beat on the innocent bystanders that surround him and cannot touch him. The owner of the restaurant(the cook) constantly watches in awe as Albert Spica humiliates everyone and talks and talks and talks, yet says nothing. The thief's wife, Georgina(his wife), is beaten, raped, and humiliated every day by the thief. She falls in love with another man at another table, Michael(her lover), and begins to have a rather passionate affair with him. What results is one of the most outrageous and bizarre films I've ever seen. Peter Greenaway has created a film that is unlike anything that has ever been made before. It is a film that is so disgusting and dark and tasteless, and yet so beautiful and intelligent and fresh that it must be seen to be believed. All of the performances are unforgettable, especially Helen Mirren as the wife, in a heart wrenching performance. Michael Gambon is absolutely terrifying as the thief. People can discuss the political implications that the film implies as well. I know some don't care about that stuff though but it does add a extra layer to the story. The attention to detail in the set-pieces depict the one pertaining to the outrageous and decadent nature of our time and the times in which we live where the thief consumes everything and is wasteful. As a result, there is a genuine sense of true horror throughout the film. The graphic violence and sex only add the the dark nature of the depiction of a world, long destroyed by the greedy punks that have overrun the world. The punks in this film are much older than the ones that are usually depicted, and we the post-apocalyptic world outside for many brief glimpses in which there is a lot of fog, smoke, grime, and filth. We really get a sense that the world that is depicted in this film was once truly beautiful and open to possibility, and the fact that it is a world that is long gone makes the film far more tragic than we would usually expect, especially one with such grand texture and such a dark sense of humor. This is the kind of film that reminds me that people in the film industry can still make intelligent, smart, and brilliant films without having to pile on the excess. The film works because it is not only effective, but it is also original storytelling. The film's use of it's set design only amplifies the way it is presents and gives the film even more meaning with it's vibrant colors and the way that each set piece in the entire film represents a different color of the rainbow. The music by Michael Nyman is simply one of the most chilling and unforgettable scores I've heard in a film. It only enhances the beauty of the film though. While the film is certainly not for everyone, especially children(although it won't be easy for them to view it given it's NC-17 rating), this film is for the kind of adult audience who likes to think and not just be shown something that will waste their time. For people who want to be challenged and shown a film that will make them think about the world in a different way than they normally do, To sum up here. It's a must see. I love it because it challenges me in a way a challenging film should. This is one of my personal favorite films.

David Ladd
David Ladd

Super Reviewer

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