Dangerous Beauty adapts from the biographical novel "The Honest Courtesan" to tell the story of Veronica Franco, an aspiring poet who turns to being a courtesan -- an educated woman of passion for the upper crust of society -- in sixteenth-century Venice. She does so out of necessity, out of her inability to marry due to a lack of stature in the city or an inheritance to her name, as well as out of rage towards her prior lover, the nobleman Marco (Rufus Sewell), who couldn't marry her for those reasons. Despite the desperation of the situation, as well as her mother's pressuring into her going down this route, there's still a moment of choice involved in how Veronica decides to handle her prospects. The ways in which she makes and affirms that decision, alongside the honest depth given to her character by the lovely Catherine McCormack, are what keep director Marshall Herskovitz's film from the throes of stale renaissance theatrics, resulting instead in a moderately invigorating story of complicated love, broken conventions, and existential pursuits involving the oldest job in the world.
The lavish, flowery dialogue you'd expect of a Venetian period piece and the warmth of candlelit taverns and bedchambers dress-up these routine conflicts of the era, lorded over by the social and monetary importance that resulted in Veronica's makeover. The hardship responsible for her situation tends to be glossed over for more inviting, positive elements of how she embraces her beauty and learns the ways of seduction, emphasizing the benefits that her new profession gives her while effortlessly -- a little too effortlessly -- slipping her into the company of dignitaries, priests, and other wealthy men. Lots of sensual content engulfs her as she's thrown into the culture with some behavior training and a new pair of platform shoes, but there's not a lot of sensuality present here, mostly overlooking the explicit side of Veronica's new life in service of mildly comedic or effervescent tones. There's a richer, more honest side of her metamorphosis going on under the surface, one that we're only given glimpses at between scenes of Veronica displaying her verbal weapons in front of audiences and waving to customers from her whimsical Italian balcony.
An unorthodox message of independence beats at the heart of Dangerous Beauty, though, told through this true story that makes one want to applaud Veronica's fortitude, despite her progression into a lascivious business. She's a compelling woman who isn't afraid of obtaining satisfaction, both physical and intellectual, which comes to life through Catherine McCormack's cheeky, tantalizing individuality. Perhaps the most intriguing element of her persona can be found in her thick-skin and responsiveness to the harsh attitude of others, turning those scenes of verbal repartee with Oliver Platt's poet Maffio into galvanizing tests of her new unconventional importance in Venice. The shifting depths of Veronica's qualities take shape through how she continues to endure the world around her, earning the film a modest amount of distinction at first as an examination of defiant characteristics, underneath the buoyant tone and the run-of-the-mill coquettish exchanges that prolong her connection with Rufus Sewell's Marco.
As a whole, Dangerous Beauty satisfies well enough with its laced-up historical romance and undertones of strength, sacrifice, and discontent amid that period in Venice, when it's allowed to show that brighter attitude through the lyrical duels and flirtations of Veronica's growth in her profession. Alas, the other side of the courtesan's story is bookended by the tumultuous climate of war and religious scrutiny, introducing a bleak demeanor of persecution and mortality that falls into the pedestrian trappings of period drama. Overwrought speeches delivered by embittered wives and men of the cloth aimed to corner Veronica within her sins aren't the film's strong suit, despite the convincingly tearful and desperate tone of Catherine McCormack's performance as she fights for her livelihood. Still, the poetry that comes from her lips during the heavier moments reminds one of the spirit she developed throughout her liberating experiences, a silver lining as Dangerous Beauty coasts through customary heartening drama.
Video and Audio:
Dangerous Beauty arrives from Fox Home Entertainment in a 2.35:1-framed, 16x9-enhanced transfer that's in pretty rough shape and clearly indicative of a rather dated source. Flatness, softness, digital noise, print damage, and a persistently dusty appearance reduce the amount of beauty one might find in the Italian setting and its romantic photography. Skin tones are overly orange and/or hot at many points, and edge halos can be spotted in higher-contrast shots. Depth can be moderately satisfying at a few points, though, and there are some satisfying shades of color underneath the issues, from the folds of leather garments to the greens of foliage. Fine detail, however, is in short supply: stitching in clothes get muddled underneath compression and flatness, while close-ups lack much of any refinement. It's functional, but could really use an update.
Despite the older presentation of Dangerous Beauty arriving with a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, Fox's disc must make the most of a 2.0 Stereo arrangement. The passionate, uplifting music sounds decent and dialogue stays clear enough discern everything that's being said without much strain. A few sound effects, like nature ambience in a courtyard, offer crisp little delights as well. Unfortunately, the track suffers from the same age as the transfer: there's a thinness and bloated buoyancy about the entire presentation, utilizing little separation in the channels. Dialogue also isn't very natural, either, sounding cumbersome against the music and atmosphere, both of which are often overwhelming in louder sequences involving crowds later on. The soundtrack doesn't have any intrusive distortion, and it does get the track from start to finish without any real clarity issues.
Not a thing.
Dangerous Beauty's worth a viewing for Catherine McCormack's engaging performance as Veronica Franco, a Venetian courtesan and wordsmith who transformed her tough situation into one of empowerment and personal gratification, both of the mind and the body. The strength of her realization as a character overshadows the clunky period romance and dramatics built around her persecution later on, triumphing over what would've otherwise been a humdrum historical depiction. Fox Home Entertainment's DVD looks and sounds pretty dated, so only pursue it if that's the only option. Rent It.