When I say this story is messed up, I'm not being hyperbolic. (Warning: The following is pure spoilers.) For instance, there's a moment where Chiron and Demetrius kill Bassianus and then rape his wife--Titus' daughter--Lavinia. After they rape her, they cut out her tongue and then cut off her hands and replace them with twigs from trees. And later, they demand one of the guys cuts off his hand to release the hostages that are Titus' other sons... and this happens... only to realize they were lied to and his sons had already been decapitated and special delivered to Titus, along with his hand. So eventually, Titus pretends to have gone crazy and gets the emperor and Queen to come to a special dinner... where he kills his own daughter and feeds everyone (including Tamora and Saturninus) the bodies of Tamora's sons baked into a meat pie. And then everybody proceeds to kill everyone else. That's not even including any of the random orgies or any of the bizarre crap that goes on in this movie. (End Spoilers)
All of that being said, I really liked the story. Strangely, it didn't feel like a Shakespeare story to me at all, but that's probably because it was done so early in his career. The language was there, but it didn't have that same poetic flair that his other, more popular plays had. I've also read that the play itself is full of so many problems and plot holes and confused motivations, making it rather unpopular. But things seemed to have at least somewhat smoothed themselves out for this adaptation. The characters of Titus and Aaron, in particular, are really fascinating. Titus borders on sanity and insanity, while Aaron the Moor is probably one of Shakespeare's most dastardly, evil, and overall greatest villains. This guy is seriously demented.
And what really helped with that was the acting. As usual in these types of adaptations, the acting was done very well. Harry Lennix, who played Aaron, was superb. And, of course, Anthony Hopkins played crazy very well. But he still kept you wondering "...is he really crazy?" Finally, I was incredibly surprised with Colm Feore, who seemed to fit into this world perfectly and was rather fantastic in his relatively small role. So while everyone was great on the whole, those three were the standouts to me.
However, I can't talk about this movie without saying one thing: it's freaking weird. First and foremost, the film starts off with a boy in his kitchen playing with action figures. Then it's like bombs start going off and the house is collapsing and these roman soldiers burst in and grab him. They take him out into this random colosseum where there's some strange interpretive dance number, but with marching and spears instead of dance. It's very bizarre. And all of this goes on for about 10 minutes. And everything just seems to clash with the last setting-wise, and I was just so confused and fascinated at the same time. The weird doesn't stop there. A lot of the visual cues are just out-there. I can't really describe it. But this is a Julie Taymor movie we're talking about.
The visuals are weird, as well, in the fact that it's mainly set in this strange fantasy realm where multiple timelines exist simultaneously, so outfits can be ancient, modern, or futuristic, there can be talk of swords and knives and others can use guns, among other things (using cars and horses, etc.). That being said, despite its weirdness and confusing nature, it's all gorgeous. As I said, this is a Julie Taymor movie, so it all looks fantastic. It's some truly beautiful cinematography and whatnot. To top it off, it has one hell of a music score to back it up. Even letting the DVD menu play for a while, the score had me hooked in and ready to start it based on that alone.
I can't in sound mind recommend this movie to everyone. It's definitely not for everyone. The Shakespeare language is there, but the biggest downfall of that is that there isn't the usual wit and poetic flow that he tends to have that makes it worth listening to. But the story is really interesting, especially if you like revenge stories or just really messed up stories. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Chan-wook Park ever decided to make a version of this. It seems to be right up his alley theme-wise. So yeah, it has the story, characters, visuals, and score that are really going for it. But for me, the biggest thing that brings it down is the fact it's over 2.5 hours of Elizabethan English that isn't interesting to listen to--at least for the most part (there are some great speeches in the second half of the movie, but they're few and far between). But if it sounds interesting to you, by all means, check it out. There are far worse ways to spend 3 hours.
A Keanu 'Whoa'