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Heroes of the Zeroes: Venus

by on November 17, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

Peter O’Toole’s Oscar-nominated (and overlooked) turn as a rogue in repose powered 2006’s “Venus” — a film as tender, wily and wise as such diversions get.

O’Toole’s physical delicacy rendered dangerous even slight slapstick, and “Venus” penned a loving, lyrical and eloquent sonnet to elderly sunsets.

A once-iconic fixture of London stage and screen, Maurice Russell is now resigned to playing dying granddads and scanning the obituary page (now his society section) with friends Ian (Leslie Phillips) and Donald (Richard Griffiths).

When Ian hires cantankerous great-niece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) as his caretaker, Maurice entertains a notion to woo her and retain vitality to ward off infirmity’s tendrils. It’s a theoretical attraction devoid of sex if not eroticism, but Roger Michell (“Changing Lanes”) retains decorum even in dirty moments.

Their age gap is glass through which Maurice gazes at this work of art. To Jessie, Maurice’s attention and actor’s access is addictive, but she has as much to learn about life as Maurice has to remember.

“Venus” is almost exclusively O’Toole’s showcase — a lifelong cad afraid no one will remember him as more than a passing phase. This pushes Maurice’s lessons in humility, love and empathy beyond corny cliché, and shared scenes with Vanessa Redgrave (as his ex) are delightful bits of dignified, aged companionship.

Simply put, it’s a pleasure to have O’Toole’s company here — likely for the last time in a role of such magnitude and majesty, bangs still swept back in boyish wisps and his sky-blue eyes vibrant and hungry.