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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 35.37%
Average: 7.32%
Pretty Bad: 4.88%
Total Crap: 2.44%

6 reviews, 46 user ratings

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by EricDSnider

"Pie, anyone?"
4 stars

"Titus Andronicus" is infamous in the theater world for being Shakespeare's most horrific play.

It's not that the body count is terribly high -- there are more deaths in "Hamlet," for example -- but that the play is all about cruelty, revenge, mutilation, rape, and even cannibalism. The general consensus is that Shakespeare wrote it simply because he knew it would be popular (which it was). If there is a point to all of the gruesomeness -- as there is in "Hamlet," for example -- it's well-hidden beneath all the blood.

Julie Taymor's film adaptation, called "Titus," does not, for the most part, pretend to be anything more than the horror story Shakespeare wrote. In fact, where the long, sprawling film falters is when it tries to be too "Shakespearean," allowing the actors to get too flowery and proper in their delivery. Yes, Shakespeare wrote the play, but a sensible adaptation would not adhere too closely to that fact, since the Bard was hardly writing in his usual fashion when he churned it out. It would be like forcing too much terror into "The Green Mile" simply because Stephen King wrote the book.

Taymor's "Titus" is set in ancient Rome, but it's a surreal ancient Rome that has automobiles, newspapers and swing music, effectively contrasting it with the traditional Rome we'd expect from the Shakespeare who gave us "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra" (and giving more weight to the argument that "Titus" ought not force itself into the usual Shakespeare mold).

The story: Rome needs a new emperor, and rather than give the throne to either of the dead emperor's sons, Saturninus (Alan Cumming) or Bassianus (James Frain), it's offered to popular war hero Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins). He turns it down on the grounds that he's too old (and he really has a point there), but endorses Saturninus, who is promptly crowned and, as a show of thanks, offers to make Titus's daughter Lavinia (Laura Fraser) his queen.

Titus goes along with this, but no one else does. Seems Lavinia was previously betrothed to Bassianus, and he's not going to lose the throne AND his fiancee, both to his brother, on the same day. So he grabs her and runs off, supported by Titus's brother, Marcus (Colm Feore), and Titus's four sons. Titus, enraged at being disobeyed, kills one of his sons and is ready to kill the rest of them before Saturninus stops him: Turns out he's in love with the widowed Tamora (Jessica Lange) anyway, and wants to marry her instead of Lavinia, no offense.

So Saturninus marries Tamora, and Bassianus marries Lavinia. Everyone's happy, right? Not for even two seconds, silly. Tamora is in love with Aaron (Harry J. Lennix), an evil, evil black man with whom she commits adultery. And Tamora's grown-up sons Chiron (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Demetrius (Matthew Rhys) are upset because they both, suddenly, are also in love with Lavinia.

Spurred on by Aaron, they kill Bassianus, then each rape Lavinia. They then cut off her tongue so she can't tell anyone who did it, and lop off her hands, too, replacing them with branches so she can't write any notes.

It gets more gruesome from there. Titus chops off his own hand in exchange for the lives of his sons, who have been taken prisoner on trumped-up charges and who are then killed anyway. Everyone wants revenge against everyone else, and they pretty much get it, though Titus surpasses them all when he learns who Sticks-for-Hands's attackers were and goes Sweeney Todd on them.

Though uneven overall, and definitely too long (the 10-minute opening sequence could have been cut altogether, for instance), "Titus" is marked by great performances by Hopkins, Lange and Cumming, just to name a few. Hopkins, in particular, is engrossing as the tragic, occasionally insane, father, and he's a campy delight when he reprises his Hannibal Lector role in the finale. (That finale, by the way, features cannibalism, a neck-breaking, a stabbing-with-a-knife, and a stabbing-with-a-candlestick.)

It is the acting, in fact, that saves Taymor's hit-or-miss directing and makes the whole thing watchable. Not pleasant, perhaps, and still occasionally hard to follow, but definitely an interesting piece of work that lives up to all the bloody madness Shakespeare intended.

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originally posted: 07/07/03 10:11:27
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User Comments

10/23/17 Louise A violent,tragic,stylized and bold film, with superb acting performances. 5 stars
7/30/10 brian Punk Shakespeare. 4 stars
2/03/08 Bnorm Very, very strange movie but excellent nonetheless. The absolute epitome of a revenge film 5 stars
2/24/06 TB This is a very crazy movie 2 stars
4/26/05 Indrid Cold Eye-popping yet gratuitous visuals are a reason (the only reason) to see it. 4 stars
6/21/04 milehigh People either love it or hate it. I love it. 5 stars
9/05/03 wendy great movie 4 stars
7/18/03 Dana Taymor had me breathless from the opening credits. Gorgeous. Brutal. Exquisite. Sublime. 5 stars
7/07/03 Jack Sommersby Great-looking, but it hasn't got a consistent narrative and meanders like hell. 2 stars
8/17/02 Zefram Mann Amazing film, and a perfect example of why the bard is still so respected as a writer. 5 stars
7/29/02 Captain Midol Beautiful, disturbing, moving, effective. Violence, apparently, never goes out of style. 5 stars
7/16/02 baby silvertooth looks great 4 stars
7/14/02 the Grinch Taymor is a genius. More proof that stage directors have "the right stuff". 5 stars
1/21/02 Al Fredo Woefully under-rated, one of my all-time faves. Violence & its consequences; yet beautiful. 5 stars
10/16/01 luke holy crap this is a crazy movie 5 stars
10/06/01 adam Highly overated, overlong. Even Hopkins can't save this one. Not as clever as it thinks. 2 stars
7/15/01 Basil One of the best movies of all time. 5 stars
6/19/01 the Grinch Brilliant direction, spectacular visuals, good performances. Craps on boorish Romeo + Julie 5 stars
2/25/01 skye what makes you think, maggie? 5 stars
2/15/01 Sarah Rains Oh I absolutely LOVED this movie 5 stars
2/13/01 Criperace Cool as shit 5 stars
1/26/01 wink You have to get past the first 15 minutes, then it ROCKS! 5 stars
11/01/00 Johnny Figaro Dazzling adaptation, powerful performances... Shakespeare the entertainer as well as artist 5 stars
10/25/00 Maggie Chen Awful. I like a movie which makes me laugh, cry and think. This movie did none of the above 2 stars
10/15/00 Psike Great story, but at times maybe too "arty". Worth watching. 4 stars
10/04/00 JJ I think it's a bad sign when you fall asleep for the first 30mins it was total crap ,boring 1 stars
9/25/00 Nigel Jones Fabulous Tour De Force - very well acted 5 stars
9/07/00 Basil One of the best films I've seen. 5 stars
8/26/00 Keith I predict many other great plays from the playwright 5 stars
8/24/00 mahone Couldn't take more than 15 minutes of its pretentiousness 1 stars
8/11/00 Klute. Hopkins gives his best performance ever. Well directed and adapted. 5 stars
6/11/00 John Woo A classic 5 stars
6/09/00 Greyjack Good god, I can't wait for the DVD. This film is astounding. 5 stars
6/02/00 13th warrior awesome 5 stars
6/02/00 Kevin What an incredible film...captivating, startling, beautifully acted 5 stars
6/02/00 skye it works for me; a great film 5 stars
4/24/00 Thor-Leo Some casting choices were questionable; anachronisms were unevenly successful; still an A. 5 stars
4/14/00 Jeffrey Great movie, great cast! 5 stars
2/16/00 zak does the work justice, everyone in cast gives great performance 5 stars
2/14/00 "Persnickety "Jenn there are no words that can do this movie justice, incredible, amazing! a true piece of art 5 stars
2/10/00 Cat Shakespeare would be proud. 5 stars
2/09/00 Heather A masterpiece, the cinematography and the sets are unbelievable 5 stars
2/03/00 Captain Highcrime Nothing short of a work of art. 5 stars
1/26/00 Pope Gonzo XIII A haunting, brilliant, spell-binding film! 5 stars
12/27/99 jenn "Blu Smrf" Alan cumming is a god, and with Hopkins and Lange, it is a must see! 5 stars
12/21/99 Kim With Hopkins and Lange, things can't go wrong! 5 stars
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  26-Jan-2000 (R)


  21-Sep-2000 (MA)

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