Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2010. Miramax, TalkStory Productions, Artemis Films, Mumbai Mantra Media, Prologue Films, Chartoff Hendee Productions, Chartoff Productions, Touchstone Pictures. Screenplay by Julie Taymor, based on the play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. Produced by Robert Chartoff, Lynne Hendee, Jason K. Lau, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Julie Taymor. Music by Elliot Goldenthal. Production Design by Mark Friedberg. Costume Design by Sandy Powell. Film Editing by Francoise Bonnot. Academy Awards 2010.
There is such promise in the pairing of Julie Taymor’s ripe visual style with one of Shakespeare’s most wondrous fantasies, and yet this one does not measure up to the power of her adaptation of Titus. Helen Mirren is excellent as the gender-switched Prospera, who rules the rocky outpost she has lived on for years since she was banished from Milan by her conniving brother (Chris Cooper). Her necromancing ways allow her to control the weather, her other power coming from Ariel (Ben Whishaw), the spirit whom she has liberated from a tree, while for company her growing daughter (Felicity Jones) who does not remember civilization, and the resentful Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) who is unhappy with his place as servant to this stranger. Prospera senses the passing of a ship carrying her enemy brother (Chris Cooper) and creates a storm that brings it to her shores, carrying along the King of Naples (David Strathairn) and his company in tow. She uses her magic to confuse and scatter them on the island and watch as complications unfold before she can inflict her vengeance upon her evil sibling, while Caliban conspires to unseat her from her place of power on this tabula rasa of a landscape. This should all be the makings of a solid classic, especially considering how suited the gender switch is to the story; the dimension of a woman in power being undone by a recklessly ambitious man is not at all awkwardly inserted into Shakespeare’s magnificent plot. What actually unfolds, however, is not charmed but insubstantial, the performances lost amid the noisy visual hot-dogging that Taymor is far too energetic with; Ariel comes off like a cheap escape device for all plot points and Mirren can barely get a monologue out before the camera bathes her in overly convoluted imagery. Other cast members are an uneven lot, including Tom Conti as a wonderfully effective Gonzalo, while Russell Brand, whose casting as the King’s jester Trinculo should be a perfect riff on his show-biz-savvy personality, can barely hold any ground with his weak delivery and blank stares. It’s a missed opportunity, easily forgotten as soon as it is viewed.