Peter O'Toole is outstanding in 'Venus'
When the Oscar nominations were made for best actor, Forest Whitaker was nominated for his larger than life role in "The Last King of Scotland." As it turned out, it was a winning performance.
Also nominated was Peter O'Toole for his remarkable work in "Venus." It was a role that while never larger than life, was, in all its honesty, a reflection of life. If there was sound and fury in part it was to be found in the subtle and constant refusal of an aging man to go gently into that good night.
O'Toole portrays Maurice Russell, a once famous actor, who now finds work wherever he can, taking small and insignificant parts. In one humor-filled scene, we see him playing a dying father, surrounded by his ersatz family, only to come fully alive when he hears the word, "cut."
Maurice lives alone in a modest London apartment, and meets daily with two friends for coffee. His life is changed when the niece of one of his friends, Ian, comes to London and moves in with her uncle. She is ill-mannered, filled with a youthful disregard for the two octogenarians, her rebellious, late teen attitudes unsettling to the two men. However, Maurice, unlike Ian, who is appalled, resurrects all of his old charm and stylish elan, and, in effect, begins to woo her. It is, clearly, a performance he has delivered countless times.
Their relationship is not simply the mentoring of this rough diamond youngster by a far wiser if somewhat wizened elder. For Maurice it evolves into a quest to find, likely for the last time, those emotions and tactile pleasures that once framed his ego-driven and often self-absorbed life. In a wonderful scene with Vanessa Redgrave, who plays his long ago wife, she reminds him that he once abandoned her and their three small children, all under six, convinced that he would find something necessary with someone else. She says this without bitterness or rancor &
the years have long ago burnished the rough edges of pain &
but the enormity of what he has done, as he now faces his frail and tenuous life alone, is all too evident.
To watch Maurice struggle to find even a remnant of his old self can be discomforting &
this flawed man, sitting on the edge of his bed each morning, contemplating his mortality and the day before him. He is a reminder that the finality of life for most is an incremental process of saying good-bye: good-bye to the physical vitality once taken for granted, to the days filled with work and family, and then, eventually, even to those familiar and comforting images that once were so readily accessible but now prove elusive. Who can question the smoldering rage that may lie just beneath the surface, the loss of all that was once a given now a seeming betrayal.
"Venus" is perhaps too close to the raw bone of life to have found a wide audience. O'Toole's portrayal is wonderfully authentic, a tour de force of acting. But then, like Maurice, he may realize that his time on the stage is soon ending. All that remains of this once robust and handsome man are his deeply dark eyes, filled with energy and sparkle, and the depth and breadth of his resilient talent, which remains, still, larger than life.