Tuesday, February 5, 2008


This one was recommended to me by my friend Jasmine, who wanted me to buy it so she could watch it with me and further indulge one of her bizarre obsessions. Specifically, this film would have indulged her obsession with King Charles cavaliers, her favorite dog breed, which makes two appearances within the film. I can only conclude that she’d have been bored by the remaining 110 or so minutes when there are no dogs to be found anywhere.

This is not to say that the movie is bad by any means, though it really wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Set in England in the Restoration era following Oliver Cromwell’s death, it follows Robert Downey Jr. as a brilliant young doctor who attracts the attention of King Charles II (Sam Neill). I had been expecting a film that largely followed England’s court and various political changes during this time, and so I was kind of expecting the scenes from this early portion of the film, where he’s completely swept up into court life, and falls prey to its many vices. After close to a decade of Puritanical rule under Cromwell, England veered sharply in the other direction, and Charles II’s reign during this time is still known today as a time when everyone was screwing constantly. However, our young doctor falls too far into this lifestyle, and before long is drummed out of court in complete disgrace, and has to find work at a madhouse, where he tries to slowly rebuild his name as a physician by attempting to cure the inmates. One of these inmates is played by Meg Ryan so that we know which one we’re supposed to focus our attentions on, and is just normal enough for him to fall in love with. Some people today might foolishly view that as a conflict of interests, but I fully support him in his efforts to find a port in such a storm.

There are two main problems with the film, both intertwined with each other. The biggest problem is that of Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. While I normally love his work, here he largely seems to sleepwalk through the role; given that this was made in the mid-90s, I can only assume his severe drug problems at the time were keeping him from playing an alcoholic sex fiend very convincingly. The second problem is that the film seems a bit too unfocused at times. This is one of the most revolutionary eras in England’s history, and instead of exploring it, we spend half the film locked up in a mental asylum. One could say that I’m being foolish for complaining that the movie tried to show me something other than what I had expected to see, but screw that. It would have been more interesting to spend all of its time at court, rather than mooning over crazy women. Granted, the film does accomplish what it’s trying to achieve fairly well, but when it’s this free-form of a plot, a strong central acting performance would have helped tremendously, and instead we got one that was adequate at best.

This is indeed a good movie, and yes, I’m probably whining inanely for no reason here, with my demands that it try to be a completely different film. Don’t worry if you saw the star rating and rented this and are just now reading the review itself. It’s still a film worth watching, it just isn’t as good as it could have, or should have, been.

Rating: ***

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