One can appreciate that artistry and ambition that went into Milos Forman's Goya's Ghosts, but it seems to corrupt itself in an impressionistic, stilted examination of power.
Starring Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, and Stellan Skarsgard, the setting is 1792 Spain. Skarsgard's Francisco Goya is the painter of the king (Randy Quaid).
Goya clandestinely sketches the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, but when the high priest (Michael Lonsdale) unhappily learns of this he remits his trusted Lorenzo (Bardem) to look into the matter.
The screenplay, co-written by Forman, concerns Lorenzo's fascination with Ines (Portman), the young friend of Goya. She's imprisoned for heresy and tortured. But, perhaps Lorenzo can do something to make the best of her situation (and his).
There is promise, at the outset, at least, as the filmmakers try to show how the political and religious element touch one another. Yet, Goya's Ghosts turns into a sweeping, arched melodrama that loses continuity and becomes strained.
A skilled portrait of a painter has the early tenacity of a thriller, yet becomes increasingly absurd, as the events unconvincingly covered here, included the Napoleonic invasions, the French revolution, and British liberation.
The talent in front of the camera fails to intrigue, even with Spanish star Bardem (Before Night Falls) essaying Lorenzo's emotions with a certain passionate malfeasance. The actors accents add an imbalance to it, not helping the likes of Skarsgard and Portman, who is a more striking presence before the more ponderous torpor sets in. It doesn't help that later on she isn't benefitted from the hair and makeup people as the character ages.
Thematically, Forman senses something equivalent here to the the tremulous global situation today, especially when someone notes that "this is how the world is seeing us". Yet, for all of the technical craftsmanship in this eclectic period picture, Goya's Ghosts is hardly resonant when it comes to the depiction of the effect of cruelty on humanity.