Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Easy To Look At . . . And Worth The Watch: Dangerous Beauty!

The Good: Nice cinematography, Decent acting, Good costumes, Directing
The Bad: Somewhat predictable character arc, the Inquisition, Disappointing DVD extras
The Basics: In Venice, a courtesan finds herself unable to be with the man she loves, so she loves the one she's with.

Marshall Herskovitz, the brainchild behind ABC's under-supported and too short-lived drama Once And Again, seems to have a following of people who get disappointed by his DVDs. I am one of them. As with the Once And Again season one boxed set (reviewed here!), Dangerous Beauty has no significant or meaningful DVD extras. There's no commentary, there's not much outside the movie's trailer. At least the DVD is inexpensive enough. Maybe Herskovitz doesn't like talking about his works. It can't be that he's ashamed of directing Dangerous Beauty.

Dangerous Beauty tells the story of Veronica Franco, a Venetian courtesan (read: prostitute of legitimate social standing in Venice at the time) who falls in love with Marco Venier, a good-looking, charming nobleman. Actually, she starts out simply as a woman who loves a man, but Marco will not marry her because she does not come from the right social standing or wealth or some other such nonsense. Veronica then becomes a courtesan, which involves her having a good deal of sex without Marco. Veronica becomes powerful in Venice, Marco (despite marrying another woman) still pines for her, and there's a lot of tension around the whole romance. The tension between Marco and Veronica is complicated by Marco's jealous hack of a poet brother, Maffio, and by impending war which necessitates Veronica bedding the King of France.

What goes a long way to helping Dangerous Beauty is that the actors are all fabulous and the film looks good. The scenery looks good, the people look good, the costumes look good; this is an easy movie to sit and watch. Indeed, part of what makes it easy to watch is the casting. Despite the obvious Hollywood-style beauty of the film's star, Catherine McCormack, no one in the movie is over-the-top, ridiculously, out-of-reach beautiful. In fact, the men have a wide array of faces and bodytypes and Rufus Sewell has a character to his form that makes him seem less like the typical Hollywood male.

But in addition to McCormack and the non-threatening looks of Rufus Sewell, the film goes out of its way to have a diverse range of body types (if not ethnicities, a reality for a period piece). Oliver Platt rounds out the main cast with a look that is definitely not the Hollywood standard. Similarly, other stars in the movie, like Fred Ward (Domenico) and Jake Weber (King Henry), look different from the typical chiseled men in movies. The net result is that this is a movie that is very easy to watch because it feels very accessible. Because the people look more like people, it brings realism and humanity to them and their struggles. Moreover, it adds realism to many of the men utilizing the services of a courtesan. It's always harder to believe that someone who is the ideal of beauty (male or female) who looks like they could have anyone, would do such things. Here, the casting makes a huge difference to the viewer believing in the time and place of the story.

The lone drawback of Dangerous Beauty as a movie, is actually two things deeply intertwined. The story of Dangerous Beauty is basically that of just about any romantic drama: two people love one another, their love is either forbidden or impractical to maintain, they find themselves apart, they still love each other, they make a change to end up together (or, in the rarer story, something happens forever preventing them from being together). It's a pretty classic plot. Thus, as Marco goes to war for Venice, we wait for his return to wrap up the romance and - given the tenor of the rest of the movie - it seems unlikely that Marco and Veronica will not finish the movie together or, at least, still in love.

The problem here is with the method. The Inquisition ("Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!") suddenly pops up in Venice with all sorts of authority and tries Veronica as a witch. The problem here is that there was nothing in the story to suggest (other than actual history not relayed in the movie) that Venice was a terribly devout lot of Catholics to begin with or even interested in letting the Pope rule over anything. In fact, there is such utter disregard for the Church throughout the first three quarters of the film that when the Inquisition suddenly appears as the Plague begins to ravage Venice, it feels like a red herring in the story. And, in the end, all it truly serves to do is allow Marco to stand up and say the things to Veronica that the audience already knows about his love for her. In the end, there is no net gain from the Inquisition stuff, there is no genuine catharsis and there is no feeling that we have viewed anything miraculous, because we already knew how Marco felt.

Conversely, for the type of film this is, Maffio makes an excellent villain from the start. His character arc, which allows him to become affiliated with the Inquisition, seems very real and natural. The problem is, once the forces of the Inquisition are put to bay by Marco's heartfelt plea, Maffio and all of his character conflict disappears and it seems like it was never so impressive to begin with.

In the end, though, the film is worthwhile, not simply for its look, but for its substance. Herskovitz seems to attach himself to projects where the dialog is both sharp and witty and stunningly realistic. The writing credits on Dangerous Beauty go to Margaret Rosenthal and Jeannine Dominy, who have a keen ear for quick dialog; it's easy to see why Herskovitz would want to be associated with this project. If only he wanted to talk about it, though . . .

For other works Marshall Herskovitz was involved in, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Love And Other Drugs
Once And Again - Season 2
I Am Sam


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movie reviews I have written.

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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