EVERY TIME I think period films are going out of style, a film like Quills comes along to remind me that people will never get sick of them. Part biopic, part love-triangle romance, part morality play, Philip Kaufman's film on the Marquis de Sade is all bullshit.

Here we go: The Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) is locked away at the Charenton insane asylum under the close watch of Abbé de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). The Abbé encourages his writing, as he believes that through writing, the Marquis can purge atrocious thoughts from his mind, and prevent them from being played out in real life. Enter Madeleine (Kate Winslet), the lovely little laundry maid. The Marquis loves Madeleine, Madeleine thinks she loves the Marquis, but really loves the Abbé, and the Abbé represses his love for both the Marquis and Madeleine because well, he's a priest. That's what they do. A storm rolls in, some pyromaniac lights the place on fire, all the nuts and the perverts escape, the Marquis dies a martyrous death in the name of love and art and expression and the First Amendment, God Bless America whew!

Kaufman didn't intend his film to be a true biography; blurring the facts is nothing new to the world of the historical film, but even then, it's hard to see anything in this mess. The film tries too hard to do too many things, and it fails as a dramatic love story, a moral fable, and a biography. It has no heart, no soul, no balls! Kaufman makes everything too pretty, too digestible, and too tame. Who the hell cares about defending freedom of expression when your characters aren't expressing anything? In the end, Quills succumbs to the same problems that Milos Forman faced with The People vs. Larry Flynt. Perhaps you can concoct a moral fable on freedom of speech from an historical figure, but you cannot change the facts, leave out the details, and gloss over the filth. You end up insulting both the lives of the people you portray and your viewers' intelligence.