Titus [1999]

Considered by many to be Shakespeare's worst play, Titus Andronicus is a bloodthirsty tragedy full of villainous heroes and bottomless revenge--hardly the stuff of big-screen directorial debuts, it would seem. Yet Julie Taymor dives headfirst into moviemaking with Titus, a spectacular adaptation that manages to find beauty and humor in the piles of carnage. The story begins simply enough by Shakespearean standards: celebrated Roman warrior Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins) returns from a hard-won victory to bury his slain sons and avenge their deaths by killing the eldest son of his enemy, Tamora, queen of the Goths (Jessica Lange). Tamora responds by seducing the impressionable new emperor and setting all of Rome into a downward spiral of revenge, madness, and death. Taymor, who won a Tony for her Broadway production of The Lion King, throws all her theatrical sensibilities at the story--armies are exquisitely choreographed, blood is shed so beautifully that it hardly seems real, and characters are costumed in symbolic combinations of ancient Roman and 20th-century garb. She plays up the dark comedy at every opportunity, lending a carnival flavor to the story's most gruesome moments. Excellent performances from Hopkins (whose deranged Titus is more than a little reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter), Lange, and the supporting cast help make the endless treachery credible. --Claire Campbell

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