2 stars (out of four)
"Silk" is a shaggy worm tale about a young Frenchman's instant obsession with a once-glimpsed Japanese woman beginning in 1862. Based on Alessandro Baricco's bestselling novella, it stars Michael Pitt as Herve Joncour, the unenthusiastic French army officer and mayor's son who bags his military career to work for local silk magnate Baldabiou (Alfred Molina) and marry devoted schoolteacher Helene (Keira Knightley).
Herve's work, securing healthy silkworm eggs, takes him first to Africa and then to Japan, enduring long, dangerous journeys and painful separations from the fragile Helene. In Japan, Herve spies a beauty (Sei Ashina) working in the service of the feudal baron (Koji Yakusho) and is instantly bewitched.
Despite the perils of the trek, Herve eagerly returns to Asia in the hope of seeing the girl. However, each venture becomes more of a slog for the audience as the sequences seem go on for the combined running times of "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Reds." The miscast Pitt's logy narrative rhythms don't help his character's incomprehensible motivations or the film's glacial pace.
Extremely attractive though she may be, the girl neither does nor says anything that would make you cross a crowded bar, let alone make repeated trips halfway around the world. And may we reiterate that Herve has Keira Knightley waiting at home.
The underutilized Knightley is saddled with greeting her wayward husband with lines such as "I thought you were dead" on one of his returns and generally looking saintly. Molina, as Baldabiou, is the only cast member who transcends the material--as he always does--and his scenes are considerably more invigorated than the rest of the film.
It's a disappointing offering from Canadian Francois Girard, the infrequent film director, whose prismatic "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould" (1993) and sweeping "The Red Violin" (1998), set expectations for something far more interesting and less conventional than this. After working primarily in theater, opera and television in recent years, Girard co-wrote the screenplay for "Silk," with Michael Golding, and the pair seem intent on producing some grandly classic depiction of Great Love. And though the film aspires to the epic with pretensions of deeper philosophical meaning, it ultimately settles for being the "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" of historical romances.
In English and unsubtitled Japanese. Running time: 1:56. MPAA rating: R (for sexuality and nudity).Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun