There are always clear-cut signs: a solid cast with no buzz, a good director but no release date, a topical film with a PR campaign that could best be described as non-existent. To say nothing of the fact that the first it was heard of was roughly a year ago, Milos Forman's
Goya's Ghosts has its ineffectiveness in the bloodstream and appears to have been released solely on name cred.
Forman, the Czech madman, began his career with sublime studies in New Wave dynamics, most memorably with 1965's Loves of a Blonde and 1967's sublime The Fireman's Ball. Now, after Cuckoo's Nest, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and that ridiculous role in Keeping the Faith, Forman seems to have jettisoned over to the other side of the spectrum. While most of Forman's American fare at the very least holds the faintest whiff of provocation, Goya's Ghosts seems shackled to a supremely-uninteresting story without even a glimmer of spontaneity. Seriously, hasn't it already been proven that all art is inspired by women and all women are evil? Isn't it time to move on? Not according to Forman. Article continues below
As part of the Spanish Inquisition, Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem
) finds it his job to look over the paintings of Francisco Goya (Stellan Skarsgård
) as the great painter was in the throws of his "Caprichos" series. The Caprichos images dealt specifically with the crimes of Spanish society, therefore the boys in the Spanish Inquisition rightly had their panties in a bunch. When they ask for Goya's head, Lorenzo states that he believes it is actually the acts of Goya's muse Ines (Natalie Portman
) that is causing the artist to create these sinister etchings. After "questioning" her, the monk derives that Ines is a Jew, a big ol' crime back in those days.
Upon hearing that his daughter has been tortured, Ines' father invites the monk to dinner and surprises him with a demonstration of how torture can force anyone to say anything. In a scene of pure preposterousness, Lorenzo is tortured and coerced into signing a document that says he was born into a family of monkeys. A maelstrom against Lorenzo ensues and we are rocketed 15 years into the future where Napoleon has begun to invade Spain. Lorenzo has now been reinvented as an Enlightenment scholar, not completely happy with Ines' reluctant release from jail and the secret she carries with her.
Besides the film being outright daffy at moments, there's a sense of visual and lyrical fatigue both in the script and in Forman's filmmaking. Skarsgård, a uniformly great actor, plays Goya with a foolish glint and a playful sarcasm, something that belies both the time and the artist's proclivity towards macabre imagery (the tones are evident even in his portraits). It's hard to say what's more insane: the fact that Lorenzo makes a 180 from uptight Voltaire-hater to artistic rebel or the fact that Randy
"Cousin Eddie" Quaid plays the freakin' King of Spain. For all intents and purposes, Goya's Ghosts could unintentionally be the funniest thing Forman has put to celluloid to date. It's a rare misfire for Forman, and it's a doozy of one.