Rated PG-13 for some nudity, suggestive content and scary images, 110 minutes
Taymor's uneven version of "The Tempest" a mixed bag
Leave it to good 'ol Bill Shakespeare to cause controversy at the movie box-office. The latest adaptation of his play "The Tempest" will no doubt cause some waves due to some major changes with the characters, though those changes are in fact welcome ones. Directed and adapted by renowned Broadway and film director Julie Taymor (best known for Broadway's "The Lion King"), the is superbly acted by most of the cast, though it suffers from some awkwardly staged scenes and uneven pacing.
Prospera (Helen Mirren), the duchess of Milan, is usurped by her brother Antonio (Chris Cooper) and is cast off on a raft to die with her young daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones). They survive, finding themselves stranded on an island where the beast Caliban is the sole inhabitant. Prospera enslaves Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) and claims the island. After 12 years, Alonso, the king of Naples (David Straithairn), sails back to his kingdom from the marriage of his daughter to the prince of Tunisia, accompanied by his son Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) and Antonio. Prospera, apprehending her chance for revenge, causes a tempest, wrecking the ship and stranding those on board on her island.
Those familiar with Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" will notice the crucial casting change from the play of Prospero to Prospera, now a woman played with agility and intelligence by one of our greatest actresses, Mirren. Taymor has succeeded in adapting the play with a woman at the helm and keeps much of the power from Shakespeare's play. Though is its most provocative change it's a welcome one and one she handles well; unfortunately, Taymor overdirects much of the film, and its suffers from plodding pacing, a few badly staged scenes and a couple of miscasting cues.
Mirren, Jones, Hounsou along with Alfred Molina and Alan Cumming are the highlights from the large, all-star cast. Cooper is a great, Oscar-winning actor who's miscast as Antonio; Cooper's contemporary sensibilities don't fit in here and he sticks out like a sore thumb. Ditto for Russell Brand, who's an inspired choice but one that throws the film off considerably; he's a major distraction in a film that may have trouble keeping those of us outside the English Lit set engaged.
Good for Taymor (who needs some good news, she's at the helm of the new "Spider-Man" Broadway musical, which is proving to be disasterous) she has Mirren, who ably carries the film and sizzles whenever she's on screen and is the highlight of an otherwise pallid, boring effort. The sets and the costumes are first-rate and I appreciate Taymor's willingness to change things up a bit, just too bad it will have a rather limited appeal.