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Venus DVD Review

Venus (2006) movie poster Venus

Theatrical Release: December 21, 2006 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Roger Michell / Writer: Hanif Kureishi

Cast: Peter O'Toole (Maurice), Leslie Phillips (Ian), Jodie Whittaker (Jessie), Richard Griffiths (Donald), Vanessa Redgrave (Valerie), Cathryn Bradshaw (Jillian), Bronson Webb (Jessie's Boyfriend), Philip Fox (Doctor), Tim Faraday (Policeman)

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Septuagenarian screen legend Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia) plays a less famous, presumably more lascivious version of himself in Venus, the R-rated drama that recently earned him an eighth Best Actor Oscar nomination.
O'Toole stars as Maurice (pronounced "Morris"), a foul-mouthed, aging English actor who is attracted to the new live-in "nurse" attending to his easily-distressed best friend Ian (Leslie Phillips). The "nurse", Ian's great-niece, is Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), an unextraordinary girl in her early twenties who offers little comfort to her elderly relative while holding only vague aspirations of modeling.

After Maurice obtains a modeling job for Jessie (posing nude for an art class), the two develop an unlikely alliance. Think Lost in Translation without a foreign backdrop and with a more substantial gap in age and way of life. Maurice's friendship with Jessie (whom he dubs "Venus" after the oft-painted Roman goddess) is more improbable, less platonic, and not so mutual. Impotent and roughly four times her age, Maurice is attracted to Jessie's blossoming nubility and youthful recklessness. Jessie seems slightly impressed with Maurice's modest fame, but she grows increasingly intrigued by his sexual interest and, most of all, the power it gives her.

Maurice (Peter O'Toole) and Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) form a curious relationship at the core of "Venus." Newspapers, pills, and coffee are prevalent at Maurice's cafe meetings with Donald (Richard Griffiths, right) and Ian (Leslie Phillips, cropped left).

Venus is not overly eager to capitalize on the obvious contrast between its two distant leads. An exchange in which Maurice provides a Shakespearean quotation and Jessie rebuts with a Kylie Minogue lyric -- each unidentifiable by the other -- seems to suffice. Instead, middle-aged director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) and writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette) pay more attention to the twilight years of one's life. To that end, Maurice, Ian, and mutual pal Donald (Richard Griffiths, Harry Potter's uncle) gather in a tiny caf้ to catch up on obituaries, exchange pills of every hue, and trade verbal spars. There's also some evident baggage between Maurice and his ex-wife Valerie (Vanessa Redgrave). Like his regular indulgence in alcohol, the illogical infatuation with the unmannered Jessie seems to offer Maurice an escape from the realities of ascending age, with its prostate problems, dwindling work opportunities, and physical limitations.

Not unlike many an elderly person, Venus moves at a slow and steady pace. Its revelations are mild, its conclusion appears inevitable, and its focus is frequently being adjusted. Still, the film manages to be reasonably compelling, thanks largely to the presence of O'Toole, to whom the part seems tailored, and his bizarre chemistry with the young Whittaker. There are a few laughs to be found among the geriatric grumblings, but the film does not attempt to be Grumpy Old Men or "One Foot in the Grave." As such, its depictions of senior citizen life is fairly bleak, lonely, and, upon review, depressing. Nevertheless, with understatement abound, Venus gets decent mileage of its restrained, semi-satisfying screenplay, as one can't help but wonder how things will unfold for O'Toole's insatiable "Dirty Old Man" and the questionable object of his affections.

Buy Venus on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 22, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase


Venus offers some video and audio challenges that are uncommon to present-day cinema. Heavy on dark scenes and shadows, it requires low lighting to avoid viewer reflection. The English subtitles provide some needed assistance as the mix of UK accents and inconsistent dynamic levels make discerning dialogue a somewhat regular challenge. Noting these issues and assuming they're intentional, the DVD doesn't appear to be at fault for its presentation of the film, exhibiting only slight grain and generally fine detail.

Jodie Whittaker auditions for the part of Jessie in "Venus: A Real Work of Art." Maurice summons the strength to escape from his hospital bed in this deleted scene. Artwork, specifically Diego Velazquez's Rokeby Venus, features in the Main Menu.


The first of three bonus features is "Venus: A Real Work of Art" (13:45), a concise yet enlightening making-of featurette. It supplies the usual: on-location footage, the occasional clip, and interview snippets
from crew and cast (including some surprisingly frank comments from Peter O'Toole). The piece sufficiently covers the film's quick conception, production, themes, and portrayal of London, supplying some footage from Jodie Whittaker's auditions as well.

Running just over four minutes, five deleted scenes (presented as four) depict more of Maurice's life: his hospital escape, impressing Jessie with his ability to remember lines, discussing his present plight, encountering Valerie on the street, and waiting for the train at the London Victoria station.

Last but not least is an audio commentary by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader. Recorded on the Wednesday between the Golden Globe awards and Oscar nomination announcements, this is an okay track which serves up enough production anecdotes and technical tidbits to sustain interest throughout the brief feature runtime. It's certainly not so lively as to recommend to non-commentary fans, but it's also not so dry as to disappoint those giving a listen.

The non-animated menus incorporate Diego Velแzquez's The Rokeby Venus (which figures in the film), watercolor-ish artwork, and photography from the film, along with excerpts of Corrine Bailey Rae's score. The disc opens with previews for The Lookout, Renaissance, The Queen, and Ratatouille (which will feature O'Toole's voice). All of these are also available from the Sneak Peeks menu. Buena Vista has gladly continued its recent trend of providing optional English subtitles on all of the bonus features.

Jessie and Maurice admire Velazquez's The Rokeby Venus during an art gallery outing. Peter O'Toole smiles like a dirty old man at the sight of a young woman's short skirt.


Venus did not produce in me a strong reaction of approval or disapproval. The movie possesses some merits beyond Peter O'Toole's widely-nominated central performance, but not enough for me to praise it and too many for me to pan it. Forgive me if that sounds like a cop-out, but I feel stuck in the middle. On the one hand, the film kept me interested much better than its "dirty old man lusts after young lady" premise suggests.
On the other, I feel like there's less here than meets the eye (or at least no more than), leaving me with little to appreciate or reflect upon once the end credits begin rolling. While I'm reluctant to join the critical majority that gently but near-unanimously found favor with Venus, I must recognize that O'Toole's fine work bears both an unusual weight and personal relevance. However, it's no swan song for the accomplished 74-year-old; he's still got half a dozen credits in the works and who knows what else beyond them.

With a challenging but faithful feature presentation and modest selection of okay bonus features, Miramax's standard DVD release aligns with the film, leading me to definitively declare both the movie and disc adequate to sustain a rental but probably not more, unless you're an ardent O'Toole devotee and collector of his highs.

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Related Reviews:
The Feature Film Debut of Peter O'Toole: Kidnapped (1960) | Featuring the voice of Peter O'Toole: Ratatouille
Co-Starring Peter O'Toole: Stardust | Co-Starring Richard Griffiths: Bedtime Stories
The Queen • Up • The Straight Story • Apocalypto • Shopgirl • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy • Kinky Boots • The Prestige • Valiant • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
BBC Films & Miramax: Brideshead Revisited • The Boys Are Back • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas • Becoming Jane
BBC Films & Other Studios: The Other Boleyn Girl • Eastern Promises • Revolutionary Road
UK Film Council: Driving Lessons • 28 Weeks Later • Sunshine • Dear Frankie • Bride & Prejudice

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Reviewed May 29, 2007.