Titus

1999, Movie, R, 140 mins

Review

TITUS | TITUS ANDRONICUS
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Julie Taymor's grand-guignol adaptation of Shakespeare's bucket-of-blood tragedy may be an exercise in overkill, but it certainly captures the play's ultraviolent essence. It's the twilight of the Roman Empire (though Dante Ferretti's production design and Milena Canonero's costumes also suggest Mussolini's Italy and some post-punk future) and brave general Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) returns to Rome with a crew of troublemaking POWs in tow: Tamora (Jessica Lange), queen of the Goths, her three sons (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Matthew Rhys and Raz Degan) and her Moorish lover Aaron (Harry Lennix). Rome, meanwhile, is torn by a power struggle between the late Emperor's sons: decadent Saturninus (a hilariously hysterical Alan Cumming), who claims birthright, and level-headed Bassianus (James Frain), who'd clearly make a more stable ruler. Patriotic Titus throws his weight behind Saturninus, but not before offing one of Tamora's sons as a sacrifice to his own slain sons. Bad move. Saturninus perversely chooses Tamora as his new Empress, placing her in the perfect position to wreak terrible revenge upon Titus, his brood and all of wretched Rome. Titus Andronicus has long been something of an embarrassment to Shakespeare scholars: Along with its barrage of beheadings and hand-loppings, there's also a particularly brutal rape, a pair of meat pies that would leave Sweeney Todd retching and Titus's ravaged daughter Livinia (Laura Fraser), deprived of her tongue, walking about with her father's severed hand in her mouth. Taymor, who adapted Disney's LION KING for the Broadway stage, makes no effort to tone down the violence, instead transforming the play's most notorious scenes into imaginatively fiendish set-pieces. Much of it is inspired, some of it is downright awful, but it does entertain, even as it threatens to drown its generally fine cast in a flood of blood and sundry body parts. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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