Directed by Michael Almereyda
Opens March 13 at the Quad
Shakespeare’s Cymbeline isn’t performed too often in the theater now due to its convoluted plot, and so for his charmingly hybridized film version director Michael Almereyda streamlines the play and uses it as a basis for a fresh, sophisticated, visually inventive work that sets Shakespeare’s characters down in a laidback land of motorcycle gangs and corrupt cops. The DIY aesthetic here uses elements of 80s flash, 90s emo, and more free-floating influences, all wrapped up in a truly bitchin’ score by David Ludwig and Bryan Senti that smoothly grooves from one musical genre to the next, all-inclusively.
Anyone who has suffered through clunky modern-day Shakespeare films like Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus (2011) should delight in Almereyda’s poetic fluidity, which is so all-embracing that it can handle the very different acting styles of his eclectic cast. As Cymbeline, who is a head of a motorcycle gang here, 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.
Most of the monologues in the play are done as voice-overs, including the famous speech “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,” which is sung on the soundtrack, and this works quite well. You might wonder why, in a world of iPhones and iPads, everyone is so obsessed with Imogen’s “honor” and “chastity,” and the concluding scene wraps up the plot so conveniently that it can only seem absurd, but Almereyda has such respect and interest in this material that he makes it only lightly absurd, and he purifies it all with a piquant, feminist final shot. Though there is nothing as startling here as the scene in Almereyda’s 2000 film of Hamlet where Ophelia (Julia Stiles) freaks out at the Guggenheim, this unexpected Cymbeline is a model of free Shakespearian adaptation.