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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.27%
Average: 16.51%
Pretty Bad: 12.84%
Total Crap: 3.67%

10 reviews, 49 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"A Writer Writes. Always!"
5 stars

It's amazing how far we've come. Hundreds, even thousands, of years of war, Renaissance and technology and yet we still have to deal with censorship. Or, at least, attempts at it. We can put the proverbial man on the moon but still thrust a tentpole of intolerance into society whenever something is created that offends us. Philip Kaufman's new film Quills is an examination of such taste, pulling nary a single punch to become one of the years's best.

Going back nearly 200 years, Quills tells the somewhat fictionalized tale of the infamous writer and sadist the Marquis De Sade. Institutionalized for his now and again less-than-romantic acts against women, the Marquis' only weapon is his quill. Writing pages and pages of explicit sexual text, his prose becomes a target for the Liebermann of the time, Dr. Royer-Collar (Michael Caine).

In-between the two of them is the sweet chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who clings to the Marquis' work like a revered romantic novel groupie. And the priest who runs the institution, Abbe de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) who sees the writer's work therapeutic for some yet nevertheless wishes he would write something else.

When the Marquis' work develops a bit of a cult following outside the gates of the institution, scandalizing the Marquis' wife and upsetting the likes of even Napoleon, the bad doctor is called upon to keep him at bay. Threatening to shut down Coulmier's asylum, the priest pleads with the Marquis to no avail, reducing him to take away any form of writing material he can find, including his beloved quills. But the Marquis refuses to be silenced, finding the most creative (and occasionally unsettling) ways this side of calligraphy to put the word down on the page.

Quills is a film that would find a home in just about any decade. Not that it would be tolerated by certain factions, but it would be an appropriate commentary. Going into and continuing on in the 21st century is our government's war on Hollywood and there's always a museum or a controversial play waiting to be picketed. It's a film that brings to light the most disturbing aspect of censorship which is that the censors take it upon themselves to be the eyes and ears for everyone, telling them what they should and should not be seeing.

Quills hits all the pressure points of the issue. Coulmier represents organized religion, albeit with a more sympathetic approach, who must fight his own desires while trying to save everyone else from the same fate. Marquis' comment on the hypocrisy of biblical copycats is one of the film's most treasured lines. Royer-Collar frequently objects to the Marquis in the manner of good taste and influencing the feeble-minded, yet never holds a mirror to his own greenhouse, entering into a marriage with the young Simone (Amelia Warner) that would make Roman Polanski envious. When the Marquis holds up that mirror and satirizes the doctor in a play reminiscent of Hamlet's "The Mousetrap", it only infuriates him further.

Some of the more disturbed inmates symbolize the lowest common denominator that wind up becoming the standard, which the suppressors look for to make their arguments. When they eventually cause harm to others, it must be the triggered result of what they read or saw and not their own mental state. Quills finds the brutal irony of such sanctimoniousness in its ending showing that where the money flows, the bleeding stops.

Geoffrey Rush pulls out all his own stops and then crushes them under his feet in his unflinching portrayal of the Marquis De Sade. Playing a thin line between an unlikable agitator and moral crusader (much like the portrayal of Larry Flynt), the Marquis is not someone we would want for a drinking buddy, but still stand by for what he represents. Rush should be staring down another Oscar nomination.

In fact all the major performances in Quills are Oscar-worthy. Joaquin Phoenix is finishing off the kind of multi-film period that is rewarded with a year-achievement Oscar. Whether he's nominated for this or Gladiator, Phoenix's greatest achievement may have been to turn my opinion around on his skills as an actor. What is billed as a supporting role, his turn as Coulmier actually goes through the biggest arc in the film and he handles with great humanity, anger and sadness.

Michael Caine makes a great Joseph Liebermann, I mean Dr. Royer-Collar, who may actually be a more terrifying (if quieter) sadist than the Marquis. Kate Winslet continues to keep her eye on the best scripts (and characters), particularly on the ones that allow her to take her clothes off. Special mention should also go to Amelia Warner as the doctor's youthful bride, timid and out of her element at first, but through the words of the Marquis comes into her own as an impetuous young woman.

Chicagoan Philip Kaufman has been absent from film since 1993's underrated Rising Sun. And it's been too long. With a resume that includes The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the unbelievably creepy 1978 Body Snatchers remake and writing credits on both The Outlaw Josey Wales and Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is someone we want making a movie every year. He also directed one of my personal favorites and frankly one of the greatest historical epics ever filmed, The Right Stuff, an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's take on the early years of the Space Race. Quills is Kaufman's best film since that was released in 1983 and I guess if it takes this long to get it right, it's worth the wait.

Quills, in essence, becomes a modern day One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Royer-Collar a substitute for Ratched; the Marquis for MacMurphy. An institutional society where thought becomes the victim and free speech becomes an oxymoron with no chance to escape and costs more than just your tongue. It turns an unpleasant man into a crusader but not a hero. We may not like what the Marquis writes but its more valid to just close the book than to tell someone else to.

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originally posted: 12/15/00 18:29:24
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User Comments

9/09/08 Arcane An original story - though a bit boring. Phoenix is excellent as usual. 3 stars
3/11/07 Roy F. Moore The Marquis DeSade as the good guy? Are they nuts? Flee this drivel. 1 stars
2/02/04 Gabriela Great movie. Amazing cast. 5 stars
10/02/03 Mopsa Funny and heartbreaking and incredibly brave. Terrific cast 5 stars
9/16/03 Pinkline Jones The user woke me up 2 stars
8/04/03 punjab pure aldrated horseshit! 1 stars
5/18/03 Ventana Racy and Raunchy, but a lot of FUN. Acting is superb! 5 stars
4/08/03 Mystique Very good acting! 5 stars
2/22/03 Blabity blah complete drivel. Misuse of talented actors. Crap Script. 1 stars
1/01/03 Jack Sommersby A simplistic dumbing-down of a controversial topic by a myopic Lefty. 1 stars
12/28/02 grardo just great 5 stars
7/27/02 AgentDS What a delictable morsel of decadently delicious cinema! 5 stars
4/26/02 Charles Tatum Rush is great and Winslet is sexy 5 stars
4/24/02 Danielle Ophelia Both delicious and disturbing--haunting, multidimensional, witty and acerbic. 5 stars
2/08/02 John Linton Roberson Lovely(both set & Winslet)but ultimately too cutesy. 3 stars
1/17/02 Piz an acting clinic for the ages thats strange, funny, and engaging 4 stars
1/02/02 Duke Disturbing yet brilliant....the dvd writer's commentary is necessary to understand the film 5 stars
12/15/01 Butterbean A disturbing picture with an ending that would piss you off 4 stars
12/13/01 Dominik Duprelle Intelligent, caustic black comedy/drama with a wicked sense of fun-enjoy it! 5 stars
11/27/01 Hum interesting 4 stars
10/22/01 Tam Beautiful and haunting. Dark and witty by turns, with superb performances. 5 stars
6/17/01 artpaws An artist for today! unsavory, anti-social, of abysmal quality: spokesman for free speech 4 stars
6/13/01 Jennifer I was speechless 4 stars
6/11/01 Matt M Disturbing but ravishing 4 stars
6/09/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Wow... 5 stars
6/04/01 Basil Excellent movie. 5 stars
5/26/01 nanci Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely spell-binding; a masterpiece 5 stars
5/15/01 The Bomb 69 not your typical hollywood ending, I loved it!!! 5 stars
5/15/01 othree I actually enjoyed it, had heard horrific comments, Rush, Marquis De Sade was wonderful 4 stars
5/07/01 Mitja Podgajski I love this movie.. 4 stars
4/19/01 Tam Disturbing and beautiful. No cliches. Rush should have won that Best Actor Oscar. 5 stars
3/28/01 viking Overlong and sordid 3 stars
3/21/01 Great movie about freedom of expression! 5 stars
3/15/01 Lady Disdain Strong and Entertaining; Winslet and Phoenix are phenomenal 5 stars
3/04/01 matthew smith Geoffrey rush is superb 5 stars
2/21/01 Rocket Boy Less than some of Kaufman's other works, but Rush was wonderful. 3 stars
2/13/01 LAZY Simplistic, inaccurate, disgusting. Does historical context matter to anyone? 3 stars
2/08/01 Johnny Figaro Caine was better in Muppet XMas Carol. Overwrought and overrated 2 stars
2/06/01 Matthew Bartley Terrific.Kind of a medevial One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest 5 stars
1/16/01 bats beautiful and disturbing like a train can't stop watching. 4 stars
1/12/01 Lisa P I loved the chances this movie took...the content was and still is highly controversial. 5 stars
1/07/01 bison it was great. 5 stars
1/03/01 insectk kicks boocoo ass 5 stars
1/02/01 Jennifer Phelps Incredible movie! 5 stars
12/24/00 Jenny-My-Fur incredible, possibly one of the best movies of the year, fan-fucking-tastic 5 stars
12/18/00 tnt great performances......but a sleeper nonetheless 3 stars
12/08/00 Boy In The Designer Bubble Man, those wig wearing brothers could cop the honies. 5 stars
12/05/00 Artist Freak Un freaking real. My favorite movie in a long, long time. 5 stars
11/29/00 Heather One of the year's best, great acting, thought provoking re: hypocrisy & free speech 5 stars
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  25-Dec-2000 (R)
  DVD: 08-May-2001


  01-Mar-2001 (M)

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