Male starlet Michael Pitt has etched out a career playing moody, vulnerable young men blessed with an almost feminine beauty and delicacy. But the pouty, androgynous good looks and stoner monotone that make Pitt a natural to play depressive musicians and psychologically damaged pretty-boys make him a perverse choice to play a gallant 19th-century French adventurer. Pitt's character in Silk bravely stares down death to travel halfway around the world to help save his business and pursue the mysterious beauty who bewitches him. But the unmistakably contemporary actor would seem hard pressed to withstand the rigors of a midnight trip to 7/11 to secure munchies. Watching Pitt play a fearless adventurer is like watching Keanu Reeves play General Patton: It's miscasting severe enough to sink an entire film, no matter how artfully assembled or handsomely mounted.
Adapted from a best-selling novel, Silk casts Pitt as a brave young man who travels to Japan at the behest of boss Alfred Molina to secure valuable silkworms. It's a hazardous trek seldom made by Europeans into a mysterious and threatening land, but Pitt quickly becomes enraptured by the courtliness and beauty of the Far East, especially once an obscenely beautiful young concubine gives him a mysterious note. Pitt is deeply in love with wife Keira Knightley, whose performance can best be described as "unclothed," but Japan keeps tugging at his conscience, and not just because of the pivotal role it plays in the burgeoning silk trade.
Silk is a film of painterly beauty and serene, mellow rhythms that intermittently lulls the viewer into a sleepy trance. In a memorable early scene, the object of Pitt's desire transforms the simple act of making a cup of tea into an elaborate, meticulous ritual full of mystery and grace. But once characters open their mouths to exchange florid dialogue or Pitt tries to express deep, operatic emotions, the mood lifts and the film's romance-novel underpinnings float to the surface. When called upon to express soul-wracking torment, Pitt at best seems mildly bummed. Sensual but profoundly silly, Silk is ultimately little more than softcore porn with arthouse trappings, a moony, dopily romantic Red Shoe Diaries variation for the NPR set.