The Film: The Name of the Rose (1986)
The Principles: Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Michael Lonsdale, Ron Perlman and Christian Slater. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.
The Premise: It’s the 14th century and it’s cold. At an isolated monastery a murder has taken place ahead of an important church conference, leading many of the monks to believe it is the work of the Devil. But to William of Baskerville (Connery) the murder is clearly man-made. Refusing to believe the talk of demonic possession he begins an independent investigation, eventually uncovering a mystery that features a hidden library of incalculable literary wealth. But with the arrival of another conference guest, an Inquisitor (F. Murray), things start to escalate even further as he sees only demons behind the crimes and seeks to punish them accordingly.
Is It Good: It is, but it isn’t a film for everyone. It’s been said that director Jean-Jacques Annaud was extremely wary of casting Connery in the lead role (a decision even author Umberto Eco didn’t like either), because he was afraid his status as a movie star would overshadow the rest of the picture. While I understand that way of thinking, I never believed that was the case here. Yeah, Connery still sports the trademark Scottish brogue he’s used in every film, but he seems energized and invested here – and while that may be because he was glad to get some good work at the time, it’s still a very good performance. Plus, I found it helped isolate Baskerville even more from the rest of the characters: he’s an intellectual outsider, and for me the choice of Connery helped underscore that point. Slater is also good as the wide-eyed innocent youth, in one of his earlier roles, but it’s the performances of the other cast members that really elevate the film for me. Every one of the supporters sports a great performance, from Abraham’s villainous Inquisitorial turn to Lonsdale’s weary friar, and even those in between (the other monks) are also strong. Perlman is deliciously rabid as an insane hunchback, and it was performances like these that helped establish him as an excellent character actor (and actor in general).
As for director Jean-Jacques Annaud, he does a good job showcasing the beautiful interiors, and there are times when the monastery takes on the necessary claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s shot in a more traditional manner, in that there aren’t any flashy camera work or editing tricks, and relies more on the strength of the script and performances to keep the action rolling. It has a rich, old-fashioned murder mystery feel to it, and while it was a failure at the US box office at the time I think this is one that deserves a second look.
Is It Worth A Look: I think so, if for nothing else than to see Ron Perlman hunchback around an Italian monastery, spouting multiple languages. If you’ve read the book you definitely should see the film, although it takes liberties with several aspects. It’s still a worthy and interesting adaptation, though. It also sports a great James Horner score, as well.
Random Anecdotes: The character William of Baskerville is a hybrid of the fictional Sherlock Holmes and the historical William of Ockham, who championed the use of logic and independent thought at a time when such a thing was regarded as heresy.