Monday, April 27, 2009
No gods, no masters, and so no budget—Alex Cox does Thomas Middleton’s seventeenth century play on the cheap, moving its bloody tale of intrigues in an Italian court to a decaying futuristic Britain. The plot of this flawed but funny anarchist farce is too labyrinthine to summarize, but once the knives come out and the poison starts pouring everything simplifies rather quickly. The important thing is that Cox nails the core of the story, even though the early scenes do drag and he fumbles with some of the finer points of his adaptation—details of the dystopian setting are underdeveloped, and the skimpiness of the futuristic trimmings begs the question of why they were even necessary in the first place. Were modern times simply not grimy enough for this cutthroat tale? But Cox is attuned to the subversive (if not downright seditious) possibilities of Middleton’s play, turning its parade of deposed dukes into a vituperative satire of a corrupt ruling class seeking power as its own end. Vindici, the titular tragic revenger, best summarizes this political philosophy when he says, “Great men were gods if beggars could not kill them.” By these terms, the film is rapturously godless.