Lasse Hallström is a filmmaker who truly excels at making minor films, and it doesn't get any more minor than his latest, Casanova. Starring boy-of-the-moment Heath Ledger as the titular pre-modern lover, it's a high-gloss romantic farce with little going on underneath. Classic Hallsstrom? Sort of, but Casanova is surprisingly un-classy in spots, which is nice – for a movie of modest aims, it does an excellent job of weaving the grit of the rabble into its bland tapestry of prestige.
The film's relationship to the actual Giacomo Casanova is negligible at best (and here it's probably worth noting the Italian accents - or, that is, the fact that the mostly-British cast makes zero effort to affect them). Hallstrom paints 18th century Venice as something like Scorsese's 70s-era New York, but with the color and pacing of modern-day Miami Beach. Casanova and his man servant wile away their days on the streets, hopping from one mark to the next, perfunctorily executing scam after scam whilst giving off the constant appearance of leisurely preening. It's a bastardization enacted to lighten the subject's load: at 21, the real Casanova saved a wealthy man's life, thus earning himself a life-long benefactor; at 30, he'd be thrown in the roughest prison in Italy for allegedly practicing witchcraft, and would stay locked up for two years or more before making what history would record as an extraordinary escape. In the strapping young body of Heath Ledger, this Jack Cas would seem to be enjoying his halcyonic twenties. Hallstrom does, however, manage to find time to put his protagonist on trial for an exceptional number of crimes for a film that barely crosses the 100 minute mark, with most of the infractions apparently related to fornication and/or heresy. Also, at the film's climax, Casanova does make an escape that could be called extraordinary – although "absurd" and "tedious" might be adjectives of better fit.