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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 Stephen Groenewegen

"Shakespeare as Grand Guignol"
3 stars

Titus is Grand Guignol Shakespeare - choppy, grotesque, over-the-top and sensational, but also a lot of fun. It's worth seeing because Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare's earliest, and least performed, plays. There is even lingering dispute amongst scholars as to whether or not he wrote it.

Titus is a revenge play. Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) has returned to Rome, victorious after a long campaign against the Goths, but weary from fighting and dispirited at losing another son to war. His star prisoner is Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Jessica Lange), accompanied by her three sons and black lover Aaron (Harry J Lennix). Titus sacrifices Tamora's eldest son and she swears vengeance. Through a fatal political miscalculation, Titus recommends Saturninus (Alan Cumming) be crowned Emperor of Rome, and Saturninus takes Tamora for his wife. Tamora and Aaron virtually destroy the Andronicus family before Titus, driven mad by grief, brings the revenge cycle to its bloody end.

Titus Andronicus is nothing if not gruesome. Titus' daughter Lavinia is brutally raped by two of Tamora's sons and returns on-stage with her tongue cut out and hands chopped off; Titus chops his own hand off - on-stage; there are severed heads and cannabilism. Director Julie Taymor, making her film debut with Titus (although she's directed opera, theatre and television), generally keeps the tone serious. She borrows one device from Jane Howell's 1985 BBC production, having young Lucius (Titus' grandson) onscreen as a silent witness to much of the action. Lucius' presence from the start (although he doesn't speak until Act III) underlines the horror - there is little here we'd feel comfortable about a child seeing.

Taymor's Titus is not your standard adaptation of Shakespeare to film. She's gone to extravagant lengths to keep a modern audience's attention. Dante Ferretti's production design mixes Ancient Roman and twentieth century fascist imagery, and is matched by Milena Canonero's costume design. There's a variety of periods on display here - and multiple anachronicities (from pinball machines to cars and plastic toys) clutter up the Roman backdrop. Elliot Goldenthal's score dips in and out of genres and styles with the same abandon.

Surprisingly, the effect is never disorienting - Taymor has carefully selected the images, music and styles best suited to telling each particular scene. When her conception works, you're left with some striking imagery (Titus' mechanically choreographed return to Rome), but when it doesn't... Some scenes - Tamora and Saturninus' wedding party, Tamora's sons sprawled over pool table and pinball machine - are a mess, and come off like cheap 1980s music video.

Taymor's tricks are all about driving the story - they add nothing to the meaning of the play; there's no consistent message from this mishmash of styles. It's less satisfying than re-interpreting Shakespeare in a different setting (Love's Labour's Lost in Edwardian England, Henry V in World War I) - the play is not transmuted. All these pyrotechnics can't disguise the play's shortcomings - the strange structure (with characters disappearing for long stretches) and underdeveloped characters. And for such a cornucopia of sensory techniques, it's surprising that Luciano Tovoli's cinematography is so drab (despite the vivid colouring of some of the outdoor scenes).

There's also a mix of acting styles on display. In a mostly solid cast, Anthony Hopkins is the stand-out - always dignified, and rendering believable the strange twists of his character. Jessica Lange doesn't have as much fun, and - as my companion remarked - her performance is frequently upstaged by her wardrobe. Lennix leaves a strong impression as the prototype Iago and Angus MacFadyen is solid support as the elder Lucius. Cumming's mincing Saturninus is pefectly apt - the hysterically simpering
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Matthew Rhys (as Chiron and Demetrius) are not.

Titus is very much a mixed bag in design and execution. Taymor's greatest achievement is reviving an almost forgotten play, and bringing it back into public consciousness.

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originally posted: 10/10/00 08:13:42
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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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