The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
Directed by Charles Shyer

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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In France in 1786, Jeanne (Hilary Swank), a young noblewoman, arrives at Versailles hoping to regain her titles and estates, which had been taken from her family when her parents were murdered by the king's soldiers some years earlier. Unable to accomplish her objectives by legitimate means, Jeanne and her new lover, Rétaux de Vilette (Simon Baker), concoct a plot to extort money from the corrupt Cardinal Louis de Rohan (Jonathan Pryce) by forging letters from the queen, Marie-Antoinette (Joely Richardson), which entreat the cardinal to purchase a fabulous diamond necklace.

Charles Shyer's The Affair of the Necklace is a deeply flawed but often beautiful and surprisingly entertaining film.

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The story the director tells is so filled with complex intrigues that it is able to keep the viewer's interest throughout, but, because his characters are either vacuous non-entities or overwrought caricatures, Shyer is never able to involve the moviegoer with them emotionally. Even had they been better crafted, however, the protagonists still would not have been engaging, as the director is so focused on portraying a particular sequence of events that he never gives the moviegoer much chance to experience what these individuals feel. More often than not, their emotions are superficially revealed in some arbitrary line or in some overdone, unaffecting speech.

Sadly, while the protagonists' machinations are nicely presented, Shyer undermines much of the interest such happenings could have had by making use of a narrator to explain the movie's events in excruciating detail. Apparently, the director was convinced that his potential viewers would be so stupid that they would need each occurrence spelled out for them. While his use of narration does make his movie simpler, it removes from it the appeal an intricately woven tale can have.

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What is more, Shyer's efforts to captivate the moviegoer are not aided by his film's consistently ridiculous dialogue. The Affair of the Necklace, in fact, contains so many painfully absurd, contrived, and affected lines that it is frankly sometimes silly. One pretentious and stupid utterance follows the next almost without interruption so that the viewer is likely to find himself genuinely annoyed by the script.

The director does not, however, deserve all the blame for The Affair of the Necklace's shortcomings. The performances of the actors, for instance, range from mediocre to bad. Hilary Swank is usually competent as the film's heroine, but most of her fellow cast members overact with glee. Admittedly, Jonathan Pryce is a hammy delight as the cartoonishly villainous Rohan, but Adrien Brody is just awkward as Jeanne's husband. Even Christopher Walken fails to acquit himself well in his portrayal of the charlatan Cagliostro. Although he is one of my personal favorite actors, his inconsistent and occasionally bizarre accent is very distracting.

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Despite the movie's numerous faults, it is often visually arresting. The sets and costumes the director employs are, without exception, truly stunning. He provides the viewer with an enthralling vision of the opulent lives of the court nobles living in the last years of the French monarchy that is always pleasant to look at.

Although The Affair of the Necklace is not, by any means, a good movie, its complex plot, ornate sets, and sumptuous costumes do give it sufficient appeal for it be worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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