Those lips, that hair! Tamora (Lange) marries the petulant Caesar Saturninus (Cumming) as part of her revenge plot...
dir-scr Julie Taymor
with Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Angus Macfayden, Harry Lennix, Laura Fraser, Matthew Rhys, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Colm Feore, James Frain, Osheen Jones, Colin Wells
Fox 99/UK 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Award-winning theatre director Taymor (The Lion King) adapts Shakespeare's first play, the gruesomely funny and violent Titus Andronicus, for the big screen with an ambitiously unusual production design that mixes the classical and the modern. So is it a big surprise, really, that it's much more theatrical than cinematic? Titus is certainly striking and energetic, keeping our interest over nearly three hours, but it lacks the subtlety and subtext to make the story really work on screen.

Titus (Hopkins) has returned to AD 400 Rome in triumph with the Goth queen (Lange) and her sons as prize prisoners, even though it cost him the life of 21 of his own sons. In a show of religious fervour, he sacrifices the queen's eldest son, ignoring her cries for mercy and planting the seeds of revenge in the queen, her slave/companion (Lennix) and her two surviving sons (Rhys and Rhys Meyers). Meanwhile, Rome's emperor has died and the two princes (Cumming and Frain) are vying for office. Soon it's Titus' unswerving loyalty to king and country that sets in motion events that will change his family (including his brother Feore, eldest son Macfayden and daughter Fraser) and Rome forever.

This is a big, meaty tale that foreshadows Shakespeare's recurring themes and characters, and Taymor tells it with an astonishing visual style that keeps us glued to our seats. The acting is superb as the entire cast bring vivid characters to life warts and all--these are deeply flawed people with the capacity to surprise themselves and each other at every turn. And the story has several very blackly comic turns that surprise with their cruelty and irony. So why did I find it all rather empty and mannered? Taymor's big production values steal what intimacy is in the story, undercutting the small moments with another arresting bit of imagery. And the symbolism is simply far too obvious--colours, settings, costumes all scream out with meaning and importance as they collect references from Greek mythology, gladiator battles, Nazi Germany, 1940s Hollywood, Jeunet & Caro ... and everything in between. On stage this would be fantastic; on screen it feels over-done and slightly pretentious. Even so, it does get the adrenalin flowing!

[18--strong adult themes and situations, violence, gore, nudity] 31.Jul.00
US release 24.Dec.99; UK release 1.Sep.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall