Titus (1999)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy, Period Film  |   Release Date - Dec 25, 1999 (USA)  |   Run Time - 162 min.  |   Countries - Italy , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Best known for her groundbreaking costume design on Broadway's The Lion King, Julie Taymor brings equally arresting visuals to Titus, her take on William Shakespeare's bloody tragedy Titus Andronicus. In her directorial debut, Taymor displays a bag of tricks one might expect from a seasoned auteur, making for a grand, lush production that feels very much of the moment. Starting with the blue war paint smeared on Anthony Hopkins' face, Taymor splashes color throughout locales that better resemble a timeless fantasy world than ancient Rome, such that the film pulses with life. Taymor even uses the freeze-and-spin camera effect popularized by The Matrix during the film's violent denouement -- yet another of many indicators that the play's themes are divorced from a specific place and time. She doesn't shy away from the extreme bloodiness of the play, which scholars consider one of Shakespeare's weakest, perhaps because the excessive murders, rapes, and tortures aren't redeemed by memorable dialogue. It's not always an easy film to watch -- near the play's end, two characters are butchered and served in a meat pie -- and it's definitely not appropriate for children. Less an exercise in interpreting a play than bringing a painting to life, Titus is worth seeing not only for its visual sense, but for typically strong performances from Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Angus MacFadyen, and particularly Harry Lennix, who seethes hauntingly as the villain Aaron. It also marks a splashy debut from a director who proves herself master of multiple media.