• Cymbeline

    Released by: Lionsgate Films
    Released on: May 19, 2015
    Director: Michael Almereyda
    Cast: Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Dakota Johnson, Penn Badgley, Milla Jovovich, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:

    Cymbeline is based on the later, lesser known work of Shakespeare of the same name, and directed by Michael Almeryda. It is not Almeryda’s first foray into Shakespeare, with 2000’s Hamlet being one of his more known works. Interestingly enough, this film takes Elizabethan theater into modern day while maintaining the words and poetic structure of the original work.

    Sounds interesting, right? The plot, as well, is wonderfully convoluted, as old Billy Shakes is most famous for. The film is based around the family of drug ‘king’, biker dude Cymbeline (Ed Harris), and namely their feud with the Romans (represented by the police force in the film). Cymbeline has remarried the Queen (Milla Jovovich), who has secret wishes for her son to be married to Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen (Dakota Johnson). However, Imogen has already secretly married Posthumus (Penn Badgley), the poorer, moody man that her father practically raised and trained to be his second hand man.

    If you’re still with me, let’s introduce the notion of betrayal that runs through the heavy currents of the film. Iachimo (Ethan Hawke) meets Posthumus, betting the young man that he can sleep with Imogen and rob her of her virtue. From that bet spirals an insane sequence of lies, deceit, murder, and all out war.

    While all this is happening, with cell phones, modern clothing, and modern bikes/guns/cars, the dialogue is pulled directly from the words of Shakespeare. This confounds understanding for a large majority of the film; even when reading the play it takes a few passes to translate into modern English. Worse still: it’s boring. At the start, the concept is intriguing and the cinematography well planned. But fifteen minutes in, it becomes snoozeville. There are so many characters and intersecting plot lines, yet somehow Cymbeline moves from scene to scene as if it were dipped in molasses. There is a lot of set-up for the big conflict at the end of the film, but it all feels so unnatural and strange.

    The cast is quite the line-up, with Ethan Hawke and Ed Harris being two big league actors at the head. That’s part of the problem of the movie: it’s very well acted with much respect paid to the script. It makes it even more confusing as to why the concept doesn’t work. The mash-up of a modern film with the words of Shakespeare, acted out well, should create a tension that is so wrong, it’s right. But that tension is mysteriously absent, and Cymbeline, as a result, is sadly dull.


    Cymbeline is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in aspect ratio 1.85:1. Visually, the film isn’t too exciting either. Many scenes are dimly lit or overly shadowed, which may be a choice to compensate for lack of stylistic interest in setting choices and costumes. As aforementioned, all of the characters are dressed in modern clothing, but there still could’ve been some dynamic choices in wardrobe that would call to the Elizabethan sensibility without leaving the realm of modernity. There are some brighter scenes, both interior and exterior, that are saturated and full of detail. Overall, Cymbeline is just as confused in its visual aspect as it is in its writing.

    Cymbeline is presented in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The mix is virtually flawless when it comes to issues and the support of the dialogue. But for the most part, the audio mix also suffers from the curse of the boring. There is little to no dynamic effect that really gives the mix a chance to shine. Seeing as Cymbeline is the head of a biker gang and that there is an epic battle in the film, one would expect some moments of surround speaker usage. Alas, there is nothing loud and exciting enough to wake you up from the droning dialogue.

    There are a few special features on this Blu-ray disc:
    Audio commentary with director Michael Almereyda, Ethan Hawke, and Anthony Holden: Mostly painful and overreaching with some moments of interest.
    Behind the Scenes of Cymbeline: Interviews with some of the cast; somewhat intriguing while venturing towards nauseatingly proud
    Interviews with the cast and crew: The Behind the Scenes serves as a greatest hits album for these individual interviews, making these a bit repetitive depending on what order you watch them in.

    Bottom Line:

    Cymbeline, like many of Shakespeare’s tragic characters, was a sinking ship from jump. I wish I could think of exactly how this film could have been improved while keeping the same premise; I still stand by the fact that the idea should have been a really great juxtaposition. With a talented cast and the poeticism of Shakespeare, there seems to be just a lack of visual and aural dynamics to carry this to fruition. Cymbeline literally put this reviewer to sleep upon first viewing, so perhaps this is worth a purchase if you’re suffering from insomnia. Otherwise, go read some Shakespeare instead.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!