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Review: Cymbeline

Cymbeline
03.11.2015
3 10

PLOT: An update of William Shakespeare's play involving the patriarch of a biker gang who refuses to allow his daughter to be with a member of his club.

REVIEW: Either William Shakespeare had a rare off day when he conceived CYMBELINE, or this modern day take on the tale is just a terribly translated, insanely ill-conceived botch job by its director. While the latter is apparent from the very beginning, a little bit of research tells me CYMBELINE is indeed thought of as one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays, written later in his career while he was perhaps suffering from a creative drought. Whatever the case, this is a very bad film, fit for neither aficionado of the legendary writer nor novice hoping to become acquainted with the Bard’s work.

The film is one of those numbers where the settings and dress are modern, but everyone talks in Shakespearean verse; think the 1996 ROMEO AND JULIET. In fact, you may also think of HAMLET (2000), which starred Ethan Hawke as the tortured Dane who navigated his notorious tortures while in the middle of corporate intrigue. That film was an interesting experiment on the part of director Michael Almereyda, and a visually appealing one to boot, but the helmer doesn’t make it happen the second time around, giving us a movie is short on dramatic urgency and visual style but heavy on boredom and unintentional laughter. And it’s not just that the dialogue doesn’t translate effectively or that Almereyda has seemingly made his movie without purpose or excitement; it’s that the material itself wouldn’t necessarily work even if the film were set in the 1600s, its plot too complex and filled with odd tangents; when we see it play out in the world of bikers, it’s doubly troublesome.

I know, far be it from me to knock Shakespeare. But let’s take a quick look at the plot of CYMBELINE, which sometimes plays like a muddled Romeo and Juliet: Cymbeline (Ed Harris), the head of a biker gang, has recently found out his daughter Imogen (Dakota Johnson) has married Posthumus (Penn Badgely), a loyal soldier in his “court.” Angered by this presumption, he banishes Posthumus, much to the pleasure of his Queen (Milla Jovovich), his second wife who wants Imogen to marry her dopey son Cloten (Anton Yelchin), which would make him an heir to the throne. Posthumus and Imogen go off to sulk in separate directions, Posthumus with a friend (James Ransone) who introduces him to a lothario (Ethan Hawke) who bets Posthumus he can find and seduce Imogen; while Imogen herself gets involved with a strange man (Delroy Lindo) whose two adoptive sons (Spencer Treat Clark, Harley Ware) are actually the long-lost sons of Cymbeline. Meanwhile, dirty cops are closing in on Cymbeline, involving him in a war on the streets, while complications ensure at least a handful of the characters will either die or fake-die in true Shakespearean style. (Yes, it would appear as though he ripped himself off a handful of times.)

The ending is one of those awkward finales where all the living characters find themselves in the same place, explaining to one another the various misunderstandings and mistakes that led them there. In the best of Shakespeare’s work, these scenes add catharsis and understanding to what’s come before, but in the rare case it doesn’t work - as in CYMBELINE, for example - it just feels like we’re rehashing the plot for the folks out there who weren’t paying attention. Almareyda has staged this final sequence so unfortunately that one can only imagine what it was like on set, as the cast attempted to deliver their lines to each other without laughing at the ridiculousness of their plight or throwing up their hands and giving up.

That’s actually the tip of the iceberg, and this complicated plot isn’t done any favors when the majority of the film plays out with the lifelessness of watching a dinner theater troupe perform on a Tuesday night. The cast, impressive as it is, often appears flummoxed by the material, and no one gives a particularly rousing or entertaining performance. (Delroy Lindo is actually the exception, even though his character is an unnecessary one.) The sets are dull, the cinematography adds no flair to the proceedings, the overall mood is funereal and dreary. I’m not exactly sure who this movie was made for, but that person is probably not the life of any party.

If there’s any fun to be had, it’s at the expense of the juxtaposition of the text and the actors battling it. The funniest moment comes when Johnson, having discovered a headless corpse, shouts, “Where is thine head?!” In another scene, Johnson is elbowed in the face by Badgley for reasons I still don’t understand, but it’s startlingly hilarious. There are a few beauties like that to be discovered (I frequently wondered if this was all some kind of weird joke), but it’s cold comfort when you have to sit through the rest of this slog. Remember how some of your teachers attempted to make Shakespeare "cool"? CYMBELINE feels like that, and the teacher couldn't be more out of his depth.

Source: JoBlo.com

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