Cymbeline Screen 7 articles

Cymbeline

2014

Cymbeline Poster
  • The source material, which is convoluted even by Shakespeare's narratively dexterous standards, is admittedly a tough nut for a filmmaker to crack, as it continually oscillates between farce and tragedy, endlessly adding characters to a series of ever-broadening misunderstandings... A biker-gang motif only exacerbates the play's potential irrelevancy, and certain plot points, such as a woman dressing as a man to evade a vengeful suitor, are simply absurd in an anything-goes outlaw setting.

  • Almereyda’s sweeping cuts take material that was already problematic (though this technically isn’t one of Shakespeare's “problem plays”) and render it almost nonsensical. The climactic war between Britain and Italy here becomes a turf war, but it’s depicted so hastily, perhaps for budgetary reasons, that several characters who are supposed to get swept up in it barely register.

  • It’s no Experimenter (Almereyda’s other new film after a too-long five years without features), but it’s intelligently shot and crisply engaging as a thought exercise and performance showcase, with all players on an equal wavelength that’s beautifully toned-down.

  • Whatever Mr. Almereyda’s inspiration, his version of “Cymbeline” reaffirms that Shakespeare can always survive every interpretive trick, with or without choppers and chrome. As soon becomes evident in this appealing eccentric divertissement, the loudest, flashiest of contemporary appurtenances, from blazing machine guns to gleaming leather jackets, are inevitably outshone by Shakespeare’s words, even in a lesser-known, lesser-loved late play like this.

  • This Cymbeline moves fast, and it can be a challenge to keep up, given the story's mercurial tone shifts: It unfolds like a tragedy, gradually shedding all its armor until it winds up, naked and a little crazy, as something of a comedy. But all this madness has a purpose, as Almereyda shows us. With its shootouts, its subcurrents of tenderness and eroticism, its trick-or-treat mischief-making, this Cymbeline is brash and inventive and more than a little wild.

  • Ed Harris reads the verse so authoritatively and clearly that he could probably do a full-scale traditional production of this play, and so Almereyda uses his commanding presence as an anchor. On the other end of the spectrum, Dakota Johnson’s naturalistic Imogen would be entirely out of place in a theatrical context but plays touchingly within the rapidly changing styles of the film. Ethan Hawke’s villainous Iachimo bridges that gap between stage and screen, keeping one foot in both traditions.

  • [Almereyda] is never cowed by Shakespeare’s own status as the greatest of authors, nor by the insistence of some scholars that Cymbeline is little more than Bill S.’s greatest hits, with its reliance on mistaken identities, toxic potions, and cross-dressing disguise. Almereyda instead treats the swirls of plot, characters, and incidents (even the iambic text itself) as sublime absurdities, things to be tossed off rather than held as sacrosanct.

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