Friday, April 11, 2008

Film #31: Titus

After mounting such grand Broadway productions as the acclaimed The Lion King, director Julie Taymor was seen as a natural to make the leap over to movies. Her first film, Titus, proved right those willing to take a chance on her. While the movie's extraordinary design suffers from the scale-down to television, Titus -- one of Shakespeare's most maligned plays -- now crackles as a most contemporary work, due to Taymor's correlation between bloodlust staged for 16th century audiences at the Globe Theater and carnage decorating modern screens.

Anthony Hopkins is commanding as Titus Andronicus, the battle-ravaged warrior returning home to find himself stranded at the losing end of a revenge plot hatched by Rome's new empress, Tamora (an impassioned Jessica Lange). Collaborating at full throttle with art director Dante Ferretti, costumer Milena Canonero and photographer Luciano Tavoli (who work in a jumbled period setting, with motorcycles and video games co-existing with swords and armored suits), the Tony Award-winning director demonstrates her filmmaking mettle with this blitzkrieg of rape, back-stabbing, throat-cutting and pie-tasting, all adorned with transfixing impressionism (like the duel-declaring stare shared by Titus and Tamora, backlit by rollicking flames and severed limbs).

Cavorting throughout this satire are the annoying Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, the engaging Alan Cumming (as tantrum-throwing emperor Saturninus) and a searing Harry Lennix as Aaron, the nefarious Moor who sins mightily for fun and racial vengeance (his joyful boast of past villainy, emitted before a swinging noose, is the movie's best moment). At nearly three hours, Titus can boast of Shakespeare's mellifluous words and Taymor's color-saturated vision; consequently, it bores us not once.

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