The Tempest
dir-scr Julie Taymor
prd Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee, Jason K Lau, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Julie Taymor
with Helen Mirren, Ben Whishaw, David Strathairn, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Jude Akuwudike
release US 10.Dec.10, UK 4.Mar.11
10/UK Touchstone 1h50
The Tempest
"These our actors": Mirren, Strathairn, Cumming and Cooper

whishaw jones hounsou
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The Tempest After Titus, Taymor brings her unique perspective to another Shakespeare classic, although this movie feels oddly stage-bound, indulging in theatricality in both the design and performances. It's a great story, but this feels a little forced.

It's been 12 years since Prospera (Mirren) and her daughter Miranda (Jones) were banished from their homeland, so Prospera orchestrates a storm to maroon her tormenters on her island home. With the help of sprite Arial (Whishaw), she divides them into three groups: the king (Straithairn) and his brother (Cumming), along with Prospera's brother (Cooper) and wise Gonzalo (Conti), are lost in madness; the wacky Trinculo and Stephano (Brand and Molina) meet up with slave Caliban (Hounsou) and run in circles; and the king's son Ferdinand (Carney) is diverted to meet Miranda.

Visually the film looks extremely deliberate, from the elaborate, stagey costumes to the almost Burtonesque set design. But it's so arch and sculpted that it the fantastical story is never meaningfully grounded in real life. At least the cast members bring an earthy honesty to the roles, most notably Mirren, who snaps the period dialog to vivid life while glowering menacingly at everyone else. Whishaw captures an intriguing naked androgyny, Hounsou is good in a difficult role, and Jones and Carney generate a whiff of chemistry. Everyone else is here for comic relief.

But the continual zany farce is a little exhausting. Sure, the anachronistic slapstick of Brand and Molina keeps things from getting dull. And by changing Prospero's gender, the filmmakers add new depth to the plot. On the other hand, everything is simply too purposefully wacky. And while the Hawaiian locations look amazing, the visual effects are uneven; some are terrific, but most are pretty cheesy.

In the end, the story is funny and thought-provoking, but not very cinematic. There's little focus or momentum to it, the scary scenes aren't remotely tense, and the humour often resorts to gross-out gags or physical mayhem rather than anything as clever as Shakespeare's dialog. All of this makes it difficult to generate any real sympathy for the characters, whether they're good or selfish, consumed with love or revenge. But it would be great on stage.

cert pg themes, innuendo 22.Feb.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall