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Miramax Pictures presents
Venus (2006)

"I'm impotent, of course. But I can still take theoretical interest."
- Maurice (Peter O'Toole)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 21, 2007

Stars: Peter O'Toole
Other Stars: Leslie Phillips, Jodie Whittaker, Richard Griffiths, Vanessa Redgrave, Cathryn Bradshaw
Director: Roger Michell

MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual content and brief nudity
Run Time: 01h:34m:41s
Release Date: May 22, 2007
UPC: 786936712438
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B+B B-

DVD Review

Venus is the 2006 British drama for which Peter O'Toole received a Best Actor nomination, but as is often the case, small films like this typically get a limited theatrical release and so are barely known by the time the Oscar statues are doled out. The curious among us are left to wait until a title hits DVD to kind of work backwards to catch up on what was deemed one of "the best" in a given category. So, here's an opportunity to watch a remarkable 74-year-old actor—who long ago proved himself as a force of nature—give yet another of those career-defining performances in a film that looks at love, life and mortality, albeit at sometime strange angles.

O'Toole is the seventy-something Maurice, a once famous stage actor now relegated to playing deathbed roles on television soaps, who spends his waning days commiserating with his actor friend Ian (Leslie Philips), trading vials of medication for breakfast and recalling the glory days. Maurice's life is sent askew when Ian's twenty-ish grandniece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) arrives, and though she's coarse, rude and a bit of a slacker he quickly falls hard for her. And in the process of the sometimes uncomfortably blunt, lop-sided courting process, the relationship between Maurice and Jessie develops in beautifully awkward back-and-forth lurches.

Behind the scenes there's a history of having told "different" relationship stories; Venus comes from Roger Michell, a director familiar with tackling left-of-center hookups—Changing Lanes, Enduring Love, Notting Hill—as well as screenwriter Hanif Kureishi, who also has a knack for bringing to life couples that are not quite the norm, most notably with My Beautiful Launderette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. And to further cement this penchant for telling the story of strange couplings, both Michell and Kureishi teamed up for The Mother, a genuinely odd little film about a much older woman having an affair with a very young man who also happens to be sleeping with her daughter. So it would seem that Michell and Kureishi are more than comfortable putting together two characters who theoretically shouldn't be together, and here we are again given two imperfect individuals whose paths intersect on some weird tangential arc.

O'Toole owns this one hands down—showing that the Academy's nomination was not just a courtesy—and he is able to convey the proud sadness of Maurice's realization that he is at the far edges of his life line. His nobility is challenged by a grim medical diagnosis, he seeks closure with his estranged wife (Vanessa Redgrave) and his infatuation with Jessie gives him something to make him feel whole once again—one-sided as it first appears—as events take a bleak turn. O'Toole has a natural ability to make ordinary sentences regal, and here he even makes uncomfortably blunt dialogue drip with a commanding richness, almost as if the words have an entirely different meaning to him.

Jodie Whittaker—in her first film role—has the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with a presence like O'Toole, something that could have resulted in her character either being completely overshadowed or ridiculously overplayed to get noticed. Whittaker's Jessie is frumpy and sluggish, a bitchy self-serving young adult slowly intrigued by the attention of Maurice, and she plays the character with beautifully ugly bursts of dialogue and a perpetually angry stare. Her inevitable softening—it's right there on the front cover—is not as warm and fuzzy as one might expect, and Jessie's evolution gives her some truly unpleasant edges that do help make her a three-dimensional character. Whittaker avoids being swallowed up by the proper swagger of her co-star, and she proves herself a worthy counterweight as the story develops.

The relationship angle—and the sometimes coarse way it develops—might not be mainstream, but Peter O'Toole moves through this like a man possessed, with a performance that is masterfully grand and tragic.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Venus is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and it's very natural looking all the way around. Colors and fleshtones look lifelike, never appearing purposely processed or tweaked. Even in its brightest moments, the image has a purposely subdued palette, and the nicely defined black levels prevent it from looking overly dreary.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix isn't terribly flashy, offering clear voices and some unexpectedly sweeping directional cues. Some of the British accents come off a bit thick at times, but there are optional English subs for those accent-challenged types. Musical elements, like the Corinne Bailey Rae song used over the final scene, sound especially wide and spacious.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Lookout, Renaissance, The Queen, Ratatouille
4 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Roger Michell, Kevin Loader
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader provide a commentary track that tends to be a bit on the dry side, starting with a discussion of the exciting subject of financing. There's a few quiet patches, and their speaking voices are on the low end of the excitement meter. Some interesting location info and naturally much talk about O'Toole, but a large portion of the material is not terribly hook-filled.

Venus: A Real Work of Art (13m:47s) is the preferred method for getting the skinny on the production, condensed down to a manageable 14 minutes. O'Toole says the film is about a "dirty old man and a sluttish young girl," while screenwriter Hanif Kureishi discusses his original concept about an old man having a prostate operation, reminiscing about his sexual life. Standard issue production values, this has a mix of interviews, behind-the-scenes clips and footage from the final film, as well as a couple of minutes of Jodie Whittaker's audition.

A set of four uneventful deleted scenes (04m:07s) and a hand full of assorted trailers round out the mix. The disc is cut into 15 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

The extras are on the light side, but this is all about Peter O'Toole owning the show with a performance that is majestically warm and perverse. Jodie Whittaker more than holds her own here as the rough-edged object of his desire, but there's no stopping the gravitational pull of O'Toole, who proves that his Best Actor nomination for this role was well deserved.

Highly recommended.


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