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Friday, September 5, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Revengers Tragedy': A gritty tale of vengeance

Special to the Seattle Times

Movie review


***
"Revengers Tragedy," with Christopher Eccleston, Eddie Izzard, Derek Jacobi, Diana Quick, Carla Henry, Andrew Schofield, Anthony Booth. Directed by Alex Cox, from a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on the play by Thomas Middleton. 109 minutes. Not rated, suitable for mature audiences (includes violence and sexual situations). Grand Illusion.

Now that summer is over, moviegoers' thoughts can turn away from animated fish, pirates and Jamie Lee Curtis. Thanks to director Alex Cox and playwright Thomas Middleton, we can curl up with a chilly tale of murder, lust and revenge.

Cox has taken "Revengers Tragedy," a 400-year-old play, and time-warped it into a neo-punk near-future. The year is 2011, the place a ravaged Liverpool, England. Something catastrophic has happened, but we're never quite sure what (bomb? virus? war?).

Vindici (Christopher Eccleston) arrives in town via a city bus full of dead people and proceeds to shave his head and intimidate some street thugs. Like Shakespeare's Iago, he knows how to bend people to his will.

The city is governed by a nasty duke (Derek Jacobi in pale makeup and a creepy ponytail) and his even nastier sons. Through flashbacks we discover that Vindici's wife was poisoned by the duke. Vindici partners up with the Duke's eldest son Lussurioso (Eddie Izzard) and the plot for revenge is set in motion.

Izzard nearly steals the movie as the preening, scheming heir to the throne. Whether he is manipulating his dimwitted brothers, or is being manipulated by his new friend, Izzard is an actor in full control. Eccleston also deserves high praise for deftly walking the tightrope between murderous rage and dark comedy. His scenes talking with his dead wife's skull are wickedly hilarious, yet touching. Also worthy of mention is Carla Henry as Vindici's virtuous sister Castiza. (Alert filmgoers may remember her from the original British version of "Queer as Folk.") With her steely gaze and determined features she brings a toughness to Castiza's few scenes that a lesser actress would have glossed over. Someone needs to cast this actress in a dramatic lead now!

The overall tone of the film is grimy and gritty, and the film's small budget is used to its advantage. It has many eerie similarities to the sleeper hit "28 Days Later" (including Eccleston) and is probably destined to join Cox's other films ("Sid and Nancy" "Repo Man") as a cult favorite. Lighthearted summer movie fare this is not, but if you're in the mood for something different, this cold dish might be just for you.

(Note: Director Cox and star Izzard will introduce the 11 p.m. screenings of the film tonight and Saturday at the Grand Illusion. For more information: 206-523-3935 or www.nwfilmforum.org).

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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