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#136 - Quills
Philip Kaufman, 2000

A story about the notorious Marquis de Sade, who builds a reputation on writing especially obscene novels while confined to an asylum.

Given the subject matter, it would be way too easy to write off Quills as your typical British costume drama given a tiresome edge by being based off the perverse writings of its main character (and said writings are relayed with some frequency over the course of the film), but fortunately it ends up being just a little better than even I expected. Geoffrey Rush has a field day as the Marquis, delivering elaborate yet profane dialogue with such zest that it's enough to win your over just a little to his admittedly demented line of reasoning. Kate Winslet turns in a solid performance as a staff member who finds herself enthralled by Rush, while Joaquin Phoenix is also good as the priest who runs the asylum but finds himself rather conflicted by the various problems brewing under his supervision (such as Rush's insanity or his relationship with Winslet). Michael Caine is also good as a Frollo-like inquisitor whose own hypocrises are rather predictable but still shown with gravitas by such a masterful actor. The film is shot with a bit more energy that your typical period piece, as is seen in some rather unusual cinematographic choices. The comedy, such as there is, is rather dark considering its subject matter - at one point, Rush stages a play mocking Caine and his own deviance while using mental patients as his main players. These moments do nothing to detract from the drama at hand, whether it's the antagonism building between Rush and Caine or the sexual tension between Winslet and Phoenix (or Winslet and Rush, or even Rush and Phoenix for that matter). It builds up to one hell of a third act that even I didn't quite see coming and made for a film that was, despite its bizarre subject matter, just as capable of conjuring well-developed characters and a tense narrative as any stuffy British period piece should have been able to do.