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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'Love Is the Devil'

7 October 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Subtitled "a study for a portrait of Francis Bacon," writer-director John Maybury's tedious composition about diabolical artists and the models and lovers they abuse premiered at Cannes, with stateside distributor Strand Releasing looking at a minor attraction on the art house circuit.

Starring Derek Jacobi as Bacon, "Love Is the Devil" is heavy on atmosphere, and its distorted visuals approximate the bleak imagery of Bacon (1909-92), one of the better-known British painters of the century. While it concentrates on just a few years in Bacon's life, Maybury's film is still overly ambitious and busy, essentially going through a laundry list of woes and mean little activities but not pursuing the often nasty subject matter to its most unnerving revelations.

Alas, one is more shocked by the conventional storytelling and hokey approach to what could potentially have been a searing experience. Chronicling Bacon's intense relationship with George Dyer (Daniel Craig), a thief who breaks into his residence and stays when the artist invites him to bed, "Love Is the Devil" has several striking sequences, but its grand and grim vision is disappointingly slim and unengaging.

While Bacon uses him as a model, Dyer slowly unwinds and goes bonkers, having abattoir dreams with bloody apparitions. Hanging with the exceedingly corrosive artist and his rotting pals, Dyer develops a taste for boozing and brooding and nearly commits suicide. Misanthropic and sociopathic, needy-in-his-own-way Bacon keeps Dyer around because the younger man is handy in the bedroom.

Typical of this sketchy film, one scene is set aside to show that Dyer is adept at inflicting pain with cigarettes and belts. Showing Bacon the sexual masochist is so easy, the cocky filmmakers overstate the opposite truth -- in social and personal relationships he's a sadistic SOB. In case we're having trouble getting the message, there's helpful narration and voice-overs, with Bacon's "optimistic about nothing" attitude carried to an irredeemable extreme in his ignoring Dyer's pleas for help.

Tilda Swinton, Anne Lambton and Karl Johnson fairly ooze across the screen as horrid pub pals of Bacon. But this grotesque chorus of upper-crust ghouls becomes tiresome, and so do the predictable class conflicts between Bacon and Dyer.

Through it all, Jacobi and Craig give passionate performances that almost redeem the film.


Strand Releasing

BBC Films, Premiere Heure, Uplink

A BFI production

In association with Partners in Crime

Writer-director: John Maybury

Producer: Chiara Menage

Executive producers: Ben Gibson, Frances-Anne Solomon, Patrice Haddad, Asai Takashi

Director of photography: John Mathieson

Production designer: Alan Macdonald

Editor: Daniel Goddard

Costume designer: Annie Symons

Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto

Casting: Mary Selway



Francis Bacon: Derek Jacobi

George Dyer: Daniel Craig

Muriel Belcher: Tilda Swinton

Isabel: Anne Lambton

Daniel: Adrian Scarborough

Deakin: Karl Johnson

Running time -- 90 minutes

No MPAA rating


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