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The Tempest

Quickcard Review The Tempest

Directed by: Julie Taymor Cast: Helen Mirren, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, David Strathairn, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Ben Whishaw Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: December 17, 2010 (Limited)

PLOT: A magical woman named Prospera (Mirren) is banished to an island with Miranda (Jones), her daughter. Prospera seeks vengeance and manipulates her daughter to find true love for a sailor who travels with men who were mysteriously shipwrecked. A cinematic adaptation of the famous play by William Shakespeare.

WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of this specific work by Shakespeare have a chance at being able to appreciate its latest cinematic adaptation ... at least more than newcomers who could find themselves lost in The Tempest in the bad way.


A filmmaker who has taught me a few things in life once shared with me a difficult problem he was having. To put it simply, in one hand he had a beautiful painting that was filled with complex imagery tinkered down to the most finite detail. In the other, he had a collection of words written with the same intensity, and with the same artistic potential. He wanted to find a way to use them both simultaneously, but realized that they would overpower one another, stepping on each other’s artistic shoes. As far as I know, he was not successful in finding a way to achieve such a harmonic marriage of striking aesthetics.

Julie Taymor’s The Tempest has this same challenge, and doesn’t prevail in creating such a successful unity. The film has beautiful imagery, but it becomes a bit of a challenge to handle the prose of Shakespeare along with Taymor’s more-cinematic-than-theatric visuals. The language is straight out of your high school English class; it’s Shakespearean to the very core. No tinkering done here – take it or leave it. And the color palette is very rich; bits of the cinematography even echo the forlorn cliffsides of L’Avventura. This all provides certain filmic legitimacy to The Tempest, but together these strengths create an even greater amount of faults. Not only does the story increasingly make itself difficult, but it becomes harder to keep up with the movie in general when the images feel like they should be standing by themselves.

Thankfully, the music does not make things messier. Continuing The Tempest’s mission of being a unique creature, the score for this Shakespearean film is heavy on percussion and trumpets, and sometimes with a mellow jazziness to it. Ben Whishaw, as Ariel, Prospera’s right hand fictional spirit, even sings a song that sounds as if accomplished European trio Keane might have written it on a gloomier day. A true peacefulness comes from the film during it’s end credits, strangely enough, as a delicate lament from a soft female voice is sung while Prospera’s books sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Though the film has a loaded cast, its most sustaining performances are those whose intense characters can provide some fire to the dialogue. Helen Mirren can only be so effective as the "Wicked Witch of the Beach," though she is a commanding presence in the film until we really start to know others. Djimon Hounsou is the biggest stand out in the movie, playing an aggressive simpleton who barks his lines and makes unlikely friends with Alfred Molina and Russell Brand's boozy boys of debauchery.

Something notably frustrating about The Tempest is that it’s stubborn. The movie is not going to have much of an audience, at all, and it doesn’t care. Sure, it might make English teachers happy that they have a new way to present the story to students, but such newcomers in question will still be lost, easily.

The Tempest is an adamantly dry experience, made by a whole slew of capable actors that found doing Shakespeare in a theater didn’t cut their teeth enough. It’s a lot of effort just to earn an Oscar nomination for “Best Make-Up.”


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