- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2007

Peter O’Toole accepted his lifetime achievement Oscar in 2003 with reservations. The actor, previously nominated seven times without a single statuette to show for it, thanked the academy but said he wanted to “win the lovely bugger outright.”

“Venus” could be his last, best chance to do just that.

This knotty drama lets Mr. O’Toole show every minute of his 74 years without feigning modesty. Those deep, dark wrinkles dare us to remember how regal his face once was.

His work here also has the veteran actor mounting a defense of the male mind at its worst.

Mr. O’Toole delivers, but by now that’s no surprise.

His Maurice, a once-famous actor reduced to bit parts, spends his days relishing the past with fellow septuagenarian Ian (Leslie Phillips). The two share a warm kinship and little else. Ian regards any change as either an annoyance or a threat, while Maurice still longs for adventure.

He gets his wish when Ian’s new nurse enters the picture.

Young, attractive Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) can’t do anything right as far as Ian’s concerned, but Maurice is too busy admiring her curves to care.

The old cad feels his inner fires raging anew, and he dusts off his best moves to woo her.

She isn’t having any of it, but she’s also at an age when her self-confidence hasn’t developed as fast as the rest of her. So she accepts his compliments and, gradually, comes to enjoy his company.

That’s all Maurice can ask for, but occasionally he lets his hands roam where they shouldn’t.

Not even prostate surgery can interfere with Maurice’s fixation on women.

The results are often whimsical, like when Maurice stumbles through an art classroom to peek at Jessie’s nude form.

His passions provide a somber subtext during a visit with his ex-wife, played by Vanessa Redgrave. The two still share a certain spark, but their skilled banter reveals how Maurice’s infidelities doomed their marriage.

“Venus” neither glorifies nor condemns Maurice’s actions. We see for ourselves where his longings left him — old and desperate for companionship. He wouldn’t have it any other way, we bet.

The film’s script, like its star, is rawboned but efficient. Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (2003’s “The Mother”) makes Maurice and Ian’s friendship vibrate, their exchanges tempered by a sad awareness of their growing irrelevancy.

Watching Maurice play a corpse in some throwaway film is more depressing than watching him hobble around his house.

Pity the ingenue sharing scenes with the still sprightly Mr. O’Toole. Yet Miss Whittaker delivers a finely tuned portrait of a young woman not yet able to read men.”

“Venus” will be seen as a potential career capper and, perhaps, an excuse to rent Mr. O’Toole’s previous classics.

You mean you still haven’t seen “Lawrence of Arabia”?

But Mr. O’Toole’s Maurice wouldn’t stand for such flattery, and his film deserves to escape the actor’s formidable shadow.

***1/2

TITLE: “Venus”

RATING: R (Nudity, adult language and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Roger Michell. Written by Hanif Kureishi. Original music by David Arnold and Corinne Bailey Rae.

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.venus-themovie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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