Saturday, October 29, 2011

#439. Julius Caesar (2002)

Directed By: Uli Edel

Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Richard Harris, Christopher Walken

Tag line: "Feared by enemies. Betrayed by friends"

Trivia:  This was the last screen appearance for Richard Harris

Made for television in 2002, Julius Caesar takes on the arduous task of relating the life story of one of history's most famous, and, indeed, infamous personalities. It's an ambitious film, nearly as ambitious as the historical figure at its center, and while the movie does come up short in several key areas, it is far from a total failure. 

We open in 82 .B.C, a time when the 20-year-old Caesar (Jeremy Sisto) ran afoul of deranged dictator, Sulla (Richard Harris). Though condemned to death, Caesar earns the respect of Pompey (Christopher Noth), Sulla's most trusted General, who helps Caesar escape from Rome. Following Sulla's demise, Caesar returns to the city and, with Pompey's assistance, garners a seat in the Roman Senate. Despite his constant bickering on the Senate floor with the powerful Cato (Christopher Walken), Caesar's influence grows, and is further strengthened when he leads a successful military campaign in Gaul. Now, with several legions behind him, Caesar marches on Rome to claim the ultimate prize, forcing his enemies, and even old friends like Pompey and Brutus (Ian Duncan), to flee. Established as Dictator of the city, Caesar would soon fall victim to his own ambitions, but not before changing the course of Rome's history, as well as that of the entire world. 

As with many such historical biopics, especially those dealing with well-known figures, many aspects of Caesar's life are left under-explored. His friendship with Pompey never gets the full attention it deserves, and because of this, the dramatic split that eventually occurs between them, one that plunged Rome into years of a terrible Civil War, lacks emotional punch. Perhaps most surprising of all is how little time is dedicated to Caesar's relationship with Cleopatra (Samuelo Sardo), a key event that's here reduced to about five minutes of screen time. That said, I was impressed with the film's opening, where Caesar stands up to the newly-arrived Sulla (played flamboyantly by Richard Harris), and the entire sequence covering the Gallic Wars, from Caesar's pursuit of tribal leader Vercingetorix (Heino Ferch) to the battle of Alessia, is undoubtedly the strongest one in the film. 

Despite clocking in at three hours, Julius Caesar still comes up short, and isn't the ultimate exploration of its title character the filmmakers intended. But it does, at the very least, do the great man justice. The movie will certainly entertain, and perhaps even teach you a thing or two, but if you're a student writing a paper on Caesar, take my advice: watching this movie will not be enough to earn you a passing grade!

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