Napoleon once said that the French Revolution was caused by The Seven Years War, the Phylloxera grapevine fungus, and The Affair of the Necklace. It lasted for many years, eventually culminating in the Napoleonic Wars and the Empire Waist dress. It is surprising to the serious student of history that three causative factors were implicated, as the screenplay for the Affair of the Necklace alone is surely sufficient cause to put a few assorted heads on the block.
The Affair of the Necklace involves a historical scandal in the court of Marie Antoinette. Hilary Swank plays a young woman in a marriage of convenience to Adrien Brody's character, who feels her ancestral lands and family name were unjustly seized and taken from her by the French crown. She thinks if she can get to court and lay her tragic history before Queen Marie Antoinette, that the Queen's feminine heart will be moved by her plight. So, she marries the Compte de la Motte in order to get a title which will admit her to court. Marrying Adrian Brody has to rank right up there with La Gwyneth's marriage to Colin Firth in SIL on the all-time Top 10 ranking of "Least Odious Arranged Marriages of Convenience in Motion Picture History".
There's a lot of skullduggery involving licentious, ambitious Cardinals, jewelers who never hit on the fruity scheme of busting up an unsold necklace they were seriously in hock for making and selling off the diamonds individually, and a very odd charlatan psychic type mesmerist/seer played by the preternaturally-creepy Christopher Walken.
I could tell you more, but why? This movie is beautifully-photographed, lavishly costumed, and by and large, dreadfully acted, edited, and directed. I cannot even begin to tell you how bad Hilary Swank is in it. The 1,000 word limit precludes that entirely. And as for editing, when your cuts cause characters heads to jump around in the frame, that's bad.
I didn't expect much, though, since from the very get-go, the movie violated Surreyhill's First Law of Bad Historical Costume Drama: If the Dogs are wrong, forget the rest. They give Marie Antoinette a Chinese Crested as a lap dog, which is a big gaffe, since the first Cresteds were first brought to Europe in the mid 1850's, and this was to England, as part of a zoological exhibition. But then, I think that the Cresteds weren't the only members of the cast who were chosen for their interesting and unusual looks, as opposed to their actual suitability to play the part.
The Cast is pretty high-octane for a movie that basically bombed at the box office and garnered lukewarm reviews. Christopher Walken is joined by Swank and Brody, and let us not forget Jonathon Pryce. Simon Baker is appealing in a beige pantyhose sort of way as the hero, but when your hero is a gigolo who hopes to personally profit from the sale of what is essentially stolen property, you are entering interesting territory, particularly if your lipliner also wanders around a bit, as Baker's does. The problem with Baker is that he seemed to have great difficult taking his lines seriously, and one can see why. There are some real clunkers in this movie, and also, it relies heavily on voiceover narration to make the plot comprehensible, and this is another sign a movie is in big trouble. It violates almost every rule of "show, don't tell".
I was disgruntled to find much time elapsed before first appearance of Adrian Brody. However, he does play "The Compte" and Surreyhill's Second Corollary of bodice-ripping clearly states that any male character under 45 who has the title of "Compte de ________" is to be considered sexy, whether villainous or heroic, as Comptes are by definition, sexy.
This Compte mutters his lines in a weird "method" hybrid of Brando and Queens, while the rest of the cast is assuming an English accent, which causes cognitive dissonance, since the movie is set in France and stars mostly Americans.
Brody certainly does his best to kick some life into the plot, and he and Walken seem to be the only cast members who seem to have copped to the notion that they AREN'T in a serious, art-house type film which will accrue numerous Oscar nods, but that they are instead in the cheesiest of cheesy historical bodice-rippers and may as well have a bit of fun with it. There is little to ponder for most of the first third of the movie other than Simon Baker's neatly-tied queue, until this interesting and unusual-looking man shows up and starts waving a sword around. Apparently, there is some sort of rule in this movie that all fights must be Shirts/Skins, and in the case of the first duel, Simon Baker is shirtless while Brody is dressed to thrill.
But unfortunately for those of us who would prefer an extended shirts/skins dueling sequence, the plot grinds on and the necklace is put into play, and the Compte ends up being chased through the streets of Paris by a flatfooted officer of the guard. This has to be the lamest, most unathletic chase scene I've ever seen filmed. It also points up one of the main problems with the film, which is that some of the characters just were all over the map. The Compte has gone from being a agile hot-tempered duelist--quick to pull out his blade and make use of it, to an ineffectual drunk effete decadent, to a clever schemer, and now he is a man who cannot seem to get out of his own way, or out of the way of horses, fruitcarts, and peasants holding baskets of veggies. He finally escapes by jumping into a canal, or the Seine, or something, and presumably, this was in the days of open sewers, so the next place we encounter him is getting out of his bathtub claiming that he was so frightened he nearly soiled himself. He is bathing, moreover, in the presence of both his wife and her lover, Simon Baker. They're just all one big happy family of co-conspirators. Well, except that the Compte gets angered at some crack the lover makes about his manhood (they both mumbled their way through it as though both were embarrassed by the script so for all I know he was saying that the Compte's father was a hamster, and his mother smelt of elderberries), morphs into a dripping-wet, homicidal, Cesare Borgia clone, and goes after Simon Baker with a knife in one hand, while holding a towel around his waist with the other. I found it a bit tragic that the only conveniently-located weapon was a knife, and not a two-handed weapon, like a grenade launcher or Scottish claymore, for reasons that should be obvious, but the movie kept its R rating, I guess.
One more observation from my notebook--the filmmakers seemed to have the idea that they needed to establish the Compte's "Character" by having him be either drinking, holding a glass of some sort of alcoholic beverage as if about to take a drink, reaching for a bottle, or going over to the sidebar to fill himself a glass in every scene. Yes, even the scene in the towel. Even when he is riding a horse, for the love of all mercy! Even when he is eating a bon bon. Even when he is having a bullet extracted from his hiney. The only real exception was when he was going after the gigolo with the knife, as it would clearly have been difficult to hold a drink, the knife, AND the towel without dribbling Beaujolais down all over his, er, without getting it all over the front of his towel. And yet, the character is never actually shown as being sloppy drunk, despite drinking continuously from morning to night.
Clearly, our Compte has a head like a cast iron skillet. Or the filmmakers think that the audience does, and unless they beat us over the heads repeatedly, we won't get it straight.
Anyhow, there is really only one thing you need to know about this movie.
Bon Bon Scene + Adrien Brody = a Man Who Knows How to Use His Tongue.