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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 23.81%
Average: 4.76%
Pretty Bad33.33%
Total Crap: 4.76%

1 review, 15 user ratings

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Name of the Rose, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Muddled Murder Mystery"
2 stars

While it's box-office take in the U.S. was disappointing, it was a smash overseas, grossing over $70 million.

The best-selling author Umberto Eco is the Italian version of our revered Tom Wolfe -- a fabulously talented writer who’s never managed to grasp the rudiments of narrative. A Milan professor of semiotics, Eco has enough knowledge and wit for ten writers, but his books are far too fancy-pants for their own good; I’ve found his numerous works unreadable, a chore to get through because they’re so top-heavy in texture and subtext that you’re incapable of genuinely responding to them on even the most elemental level, which is what all storytellers, no matter their delusions of grandeur, need to function on. His international smash, the murder mystery The Name of the Rose, his debut, is the best-known of his stuff, and the movie version, with its screenplay-by-committee by no fewer than four writers (among them Roman Polanski’s regular contributor, Gerard Brach) have valiantly but unsuccessfully failed at making something organically coherent of it. Set in 1327, in northern Italy, the story involves the exploits of the Franciscan friar William of Baskerville (played by Sean Connery), who, along with his teenage apprentice Adso (Christian Slater), descends upon a remote Benedictine abbey where he finds himself investigating the mysterious death of one of their members; with uncommonly acute deductive skills, William is able to determine that the man, who was found at the bottom of a ravine, killed himself intentionally. But soon thereafter more bodies start to pile up -- one found headfirst in a vat of animal blood, the other submerged in a bathtub of affliction-alleviating herbal water; both of whom, as well as the first corpse, with a considerable smudge black-ink smudge on one of their fingertips. Thus far the proceedings are reasonably atmospheric and intriguing -- what inimical beast is wreaking merciless havoc on these peace-adhering monks steadfastly dedicated to serving the word of God? And Connery, sans hairpiece, with a pointy gray beard, delivering each and every one of his lines spectacularly, makes for a charismatic protagonist. (His every move, every inflection is a pleasure to take in.) Could the culprit be one of the monks, or one of the poverty-stricken peasants residing below the abbey who have scraps of leftover food dumped on them from on-high? William, whose oversized eyeglasses mystify the other monks (“Eyes of glass in twin hoops!”), takes an interest in the ancient books in the library that were being translated by all of the victims; the overseer of the library, who refuses to grant William access to a secret room containing the very rarest of the editions, exclaims “A monk should not laugh. Only the fool lifts up his voice in laughter!” (Try saying that one with a straight face.) The movie continues in bits and spurts, transporting us to the darkest regions of time and space within the nether regions of this gloomy gulag of an abbey without, regrettably, so much as a shred of immediacy coming of it.

Eco’s book was almost certainly unadaptable, what with its theological and philosophical densities clouding and clogging the pores to the detrimental point where the only ones who could get any enjoyment of it had to have been high-minded snobs confusing complexity with profoundness. And since the screenplay has truncated a good deal of its eccentricity, all we’re left with is a muddled, uninvolving mystery that offers none of the qualities we expect of this genre like suspense and cleverness and, at the very least, ratiocination. When the culprit responsible for all the mayhem is finally identified, he’s hardly menacing, with the motive behind the slayings so palpably absurd you’d think the moviemakers would’ve had the good sense to somehow alter it so the audience wouldn’t be letting out an exasperated “So what?” A fluid, capable director could’ve possibly made something trashily enjoyable out of all this if the running time were a good thirty minutes shorter and the hand guiding us not so joyless; unfortunately, the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Annaud, as he demonstrated in his previous picture, the clunky prehistoric tale Quest for Fire, is incapable of aptly shaping a scene and locating and pointing up the impetus within one. There’s no fundamental “view” of the material, only broad strokes that render the proceedings both opaque and oblique; and though Annaud went to considerable lengths to secure an actual eight-hundred-year-old Italian abbey for shooting, even with the help of the world-renowned cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli (Once Upon a Time in America), due to his cramped compositions, the awkward juxtaposing, and the camera never seeming to be in the right damn place, he hasn’t come up with a single expressive image. There’s a potentially taut sequence where William and Adso find themselves separated from each other in a labyrinth of twisty staircases while a mysterious figure calmly stalks them, but time and time again (including the burrowing into dark, dank catacombs and secret passageways that should be gripping and enthralling but aren’t) Annaud is simply unable to close the deal -- he lacks judgment as well as imagination, and has trouble getting a consistent rhythm going, which is why the movie is uneven, lumbering, downright enervating. Oh, The Name of the Rose isn’t a complete lost cause. In addition to Connery’s solidity there’s a dexterous music score by James Horner, a fairly erotic sex scene between Adso and a young peasant woman, Colli’s meticulous lighting giving the viewer just enough to make out in the candlelight interiors, and an outstanding F. Murray Abraham (in his first role since his Oscar-winning one in Amadeus), who doesn't arrive until well after the one-hour mark, as the dastardly Inquisitor Bernard Gui, a longtime nemesis of William’s who arrives with his henchmen to hold court and render guilty judgments and lethal punishments on the “heretics” he believes responsible for the crimes. With more scenes of stalwarts Connery and Abraham facing off, The Name of the Rose might’ve really been something.

The anamorphic DVD is fine, and the special features plentiful.

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originally posted: 02/12/15 09:47:38
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User Comments

8/31/05 Indrid Cold A unique, fascinating idea with a somewhat uneven story. 4 stars
8/13/05 ES mr. Connery your a legend, please don't ever sell out for a paycheck 5 stars
2/22/05 Captain Craig A Medeval drama which chuggs along in places but eventually works 4 stars
11/30/03 Reuben Wonderful lesson on politics within the Church 5 stars
6/08/03 your worse goddamn nightmare Wow, do I love this movie. And wow, do I love the author, Umberto Eco!!! 5 stars
4/02/03 Jack Sommersby Visually interesting but the story is woefully dense and unwiedly. Connery helps out a lot. 2 stars
2/07/03 The Lavender and Chartreuse Polka-dotted Unicorn Fun Romp. Probably Sean Connery's best post-James Bond performance. 5 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum Annaud is such a cool director 5 stars
8/13/02 Monster W. Kung A good film, whose only flaw is that it typecasts its villains a little bit. 4 stars
3/22/02 Ziggy Stardust Awesome movie, but - stating an obvious cliche - the book was better... 5 stars
3/07/01 R.W. Welch Good period piece but not enough suspense to make a first rate mystery yarn. 3 stars
1/24/01 dave Underhill WHAT!!!! this is a classic film of our time worth watchin by everyone!! 5 stars
12/16/00 Mayan2012 Well made with great atmosphere and period authenticity 4 stars
11/22/99 Weird Andy Not as good as the book, but not bad a-tall. 4 stars
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  02-Oct-1986 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jul-2004



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