Many films have been made about the notorious 18th century European playboy, Casanova, including one by Fellini and another starring Bob Hope. However, the current one with Heath Ledger may be the worst, or close to it.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, “Casanova” tries very hard to be a ribald, rollicking frolic in the spirit of the Oscar winner “Tom Jones.” But, it’s neither funny nor sexy, and Ledger is far more effective as a gay cowboy (“Brokeback Mountain”), than the revolutionary romancer of women.
With Inquisitor Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons) on his heels, Casanova plays mind and identity games to stay out of the dungeon. To prolong protection by the ruler of Venice (the Doge), Casanova must get married and fast. He selects the virginal Victoria (Natalie Dormer), who is already pledged to Giovanni (Charlie Cox). His sister, Francesca (Sienna Miller), is a better swordsperson and, therefore, cross-dresses as her brother in the inevitable duel with Casanova. The result is the great lover’s first encounter with feminism and true love.
More complications arise when it is revealed that Francesa is engaged to obese aristocrat Papprizzio (Oliver Platt), whom she has never seen. Further misunderstandings culminate in Papprizio’s time on the rack, courtesy of Pucci, and the fat cat’s mistaking of his Francesa’s mother (Lena Olin) for his fiancée.
In the middle of the muddle is Casanova who, as portrayed by Ledger, is dull and surprisingly un-charismatic. It makes you wonder what all the fuss is about.
While the Venice locations and sumptuous art design has genuine eye appeal, “Casanova” is not much fun and no “Tom Jones.” Ledger should take lessons from Albert Finney who, as Tom, convincingly captured the hearts and boudoirs of any and every woman. Now with an Oscar nomination, Ledger had best stay on Brokeback Mountain.