The pairing of Christopher Walken and Helen Mirren as a definitely twisted married couple is an inspired one, as is the pairing of Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson as a younger duo who have decided to visit Venice on their honeymoon. The older couple, Venetian residents, is made up of an English woman and a rural Italian man (Walken, with an interesting accent) who live what appears to be a simple life.
Based on a stinging novella by Ian McEwan, the film is a study in intense self-absorption, to the point of obsession. Both couples are guilty of this sin in different ways--the younger one hedonistically, and the older one in a decidedly more sinister fashion.
When they intersect the obvious sparks--chemical, sexual, and otherwise--fly thick and fast and this makes for strong, compelling cinema. Paul Schrader, the director, has done a superb job capturing the atmosphere and tone of McEwan's novella. What always intrigues me is the "mixed" casting of actors from different countries in the same film. The presence of Walken, the only American among the otherwise British cast, provides an intense presence made all the more so by his out of whack persona.
This "out-of-whackness" reaches a crescendo at the film's climax which should not be revealed here. This is a strange, dark film that stings as much as the original novella and does so abundantly. McEwan, one of the most intelligent fiction writers around, cleverly sets this macabre story in Venice whose dark labyrinthine passages Schrader takes maximum advantage of, giving the film the creepy atmosphere it needs to make it so resonant.