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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Titus

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange
Director: Julie Taymor
Rated: NR
RunTime: 140 Minutes
Release Date: February 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Laura Fraser, Angus McFadyen, James Frain, Kenny Doughty, Colm Feore, Harry J. Lennix, Alan Cumming, Osheen Jones

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

TITUS, based on William Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" (arguably Shakespeare's least popular and most violent play), is brought to the screen by Broadway director Julie Taymor ("The Lion King").

The movie is an audacious spectacle that blends a wide variety of timeframes from ancient Rome to the modern day. Other directors have shown in the last few years that more modern adaptations of Shakespeare can work marvelously well. Richard Loncraine's RICHARD III and Baz Luhrmann's ROMEO + JULIET were lucid and involving tales based on the Bard's works.

Taymor's bold picture outdoes the others in production design and choreography. What it lacks is a cohesive structure and perspicuous storytelling. Her vision is as murky as the others were straightforwardly appealing. To be fair, "Titus Andronicus" isn't exactly a play in which any of the lines are familiar. One could argue that the play's obscurity is well deserved. Some have even argued that Shakespeare wasn't the author anyway.

The film's casting is superb, even if the acting isn't at the level that you would expect from such a talented group of actors. Anthony Hopkins rants and raves his way through the lead role as Titus Andronicus. Titus is a pretty vicious guy, a part that is a natural for Anthony 'Hannibal Lecter' Hopkins. Titus happily and gorily has his hand chopped off so that he can swap it for the heads of the two young lads who abused his daughter, Lavinia (Laura Fraser). Lavinia has had both of her hands chopped off and tree branches planted in their place. She also lost her tongue to the knife.

Jessica Lange plays the evil Queen Tamora. Having the most fun of all, Alan Cumming preens on the stage as the Emperor Saturninus.

The wonderfully inventive and massive architecture looks as if it were designed by Nazi architect Albert Speer. The costumes are to die for. Queen Tamora gets gold body armor with a large push 'em up bra. It looks so heavy that it's amazing that she can stand up without falling over.

Among the story's many in-jokes is the radio station that covers the Emperor's broadcasts -- SPQR News. If you don't know what SPQR stands for, you should have paid more attention to history when you were in school.

One of my favorite episodes is the one that starts the film. In it is planted the hint that what might have saved Rome from its infamous fall was better toy action figures.

Trying to describe my feelings about the film, I kept thinking of how my son describes such situations: "It was -- well -- innnnnnnnnteresting." Although I personally found much to admire in TITUS's sets, music and costumes, I can't bring myself recommend the film itself. My suspicion is that the average moviegoer will hate the picture. Shakespeare buffs, on the other hand, will certainly want to give the picture a try and judge for themselves whether Taymor's effort is worthwhile.

TITUS runs a long 2:42. It is rated R for strong violent and sexual images and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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