Reviewed May 21st, 2001 by Brian White
Want an evening with an ulta-perverse genius? Well check out Quills. This is the story of the infamous, French writer Marquis de Sade. De Sade wrote books of such violence, sacrilege, and perversity that they still shock today. The snippets from the late 18th century writer's work that are uttered in the film are quite indicative of the base subject matter of which the man was capable. Whatever you think of his life, or works (and both are justifiably damning to the man's reputation), you have to consider the fact that he hit all the right buttons, and did so in a very well-written way. I don't know that the real de Sade was as brilliant as the character that Geoffrey Rush portrays here, but either way it's a great film.
How is it possible for a major Hollywood studio to produce a film about such a character? Well you just put him in the middle of a situation, and use him to catalyze change. Quills is set in the Asylum where de Sade spent the end of his life. The benevolent Abby (Jaquin Phoenix) who runs the place allows de Sade to write in order to purge his soul of the depravity. Little does the Abby know that de Sade is having his manuscripts smuggled out to a publisher through a conspiracy including the lovely chambermaid Madeleine (Kate Winslet).
When the emperor hears about the shocking books he orders de Sade killed. A trusty right-hand man suggests that Napoleon will look better if he's able to rehabilitate the writer. A cruel doctor, Michael Cane, is sent to “rehabilitate” de Sade.
This movie never makes the mistake of portraying de Sade as a sympathetic character. He is presented as a very twisted man. De Sade is juxtaposed with both the beauty and hypocrisy of the age. Caine's character does well to add balance to the mix. A professor of mine once told this author that poor taste is the moral corrective to the deceit of polite society. Quills illustrates this perfectly.
While I do have to complain about the cheesy way that Phoenix's character ends up, Quills is a very satisfying film experience that sticks around your mind for a little while after the credits roll.
How does the DVD look? Very good, actually. This is a very crisp, 1.85:1, anamorphic transfer. I kept commenting throughout the film about how film-like it was.
There is also a great 5.1, Dolby digital mix. For the most part, it is toward the front. However, your surrounds do come into the mix for thunder, and the crazy music (you'll understand after you see the film).
For extras, you get a director's commentary and three documentaries: one is a number of interviews with the actors and filmmakers, one is about the sets, and one is about the costumes.
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