"Villa" may be yet another pristine British period piece, but it's a compellingly wrought example of the genre and tells its story well. From the moonlit gardens of Italy and the twilight glamour of the expatriate scene to Penn's mature sensuality and Bancroft's glorious brassiness, the film gets every detail just right. And at its core is Thomas' intelligent, richly nuanced performance; despite the superb supporting cast around her, Thomas must carry the story as well as embody its moral ambiguities, and she proves quite equal to this task.
The film's major drawback is a certain stateliness that prevents it from really catching on fire. But fortunately, this decorum also lends the appropriate emotional weight to the story's moral questions and, in places, creates such suspense that the sound of a single gunshot can almost stop your heart. Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, Anne Bancroft, James Fox and Jeremy Davies. Directed by Philip Haas. Written by Belinda Haas. Produced by Geoff Stier. A USA release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements. Running time: 115 minutes