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Brian Hawkins RSS Feed (Indiana, USA)

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Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
DVD ~ Charlton Heston
18 used & new from $5.95

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sticking up for Jason Robards, December 2, 2009
This review is from: Julius Caesar (DVD)
I feel as though I need to stick up for this version of Shakespeare's play. After teaching this play for almost ten years, I have read it over forty times and seen the 1953 movie version at least that often. However, I watched the Robards-Heston version for the first time this fall. Though I do like the older black-and-white movie, I have always felt that the director (and James Mason) misread Brutus, just as most people seem to do. Brutus is not noble and has very few redeeming qualities even outside of the fact that he betrayed Caesar. He is easily manipulated, vain, and dishonest with others and with himself. He is a man who does not know his own mind (as Cassius does). When he berates Cassius for taking bribes and shaking down the locals (Act IV), his self-righteous platitudes collapse under the weight of his real concern - namely that Cassius is not sharing the money with him so that he can pay his soldiers (because he is just too honest to steal). He consistently makes bad decisions after hijacking the conspiracy (letting Anthony live, letting Anthony speak at the funeral, letting Anthony speak after him rather than before, marching to meet Antony's and Octavius's troops and yielding the high ground, etc), misreads the people around him, and ultimately puts himself first rather than the Rome he whines about wanting to protect. The genius of this play is not in Brutus's tortured soul struggling to balance his love of Caesar versus his love of Rome; instead it is in Shakespeare's brilliant ability at misdirection (for lack of a better term). I enjoyed this movie precisely because I think Robards was trying mightily to depict a Brutus who was more than a bit vain and shallow - a wooden figure in over his head being manipulated by those around him. I am not sure he always pulls this off, but I do think that an actor trying to create a Brutus who wants to seem the savior but who is actually an "empty toga" deserves more credit than one who plays a "traditional" but inaccurate "tragic hero" (as Mason does). While his performance is hit-and-miss I really appreciate that he gives us a Brutus to contrast to the earlier film. Some of the best classroom discussions I have ever had concerning this play have come this week when letting the students compare and contrast scenes from each film. (Plus I always have a soft spot for Heston. I was fortunate to meet him briefly at a function about 12 years ago. I said little more than "Hello" but I did get to shake his hand and have a picture taken.)

A very good movie for those looking to see a different, and I think more accurate rendition of this wonderful play.

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