Statesmanship, battle aptitude and loyalty share equal time in TNT’s “Caesar,” a pulpy miniseries that should keep undemanding auds hooked until Brutus does the deed. Handsome, honorable and politically hungry, Rome’s favorite son is made up as quite the hunky hero in the latest TV bio to mine epic pursuits for ratings. And while it’s not the detailed dossier that was A&E’s “Napoleon,” neither does it swing the way of USA’s overbaked “Helen of Troy.”
Directed by Uli Edel (“The Mists of Avalon”) as pure entertainment instead of a history lesson, “Caesar” is simplified on all terms to mixed results. While little backstory is provided for any of the characters, the action at hand is never complicated or, for that matter, complex. Edel and writers Peter Pruce and Craig Warner showcase a rapid maturation process, lifting young Julius from the bowels of anonymity to the title of “people’s emperor” as if this guy weresimply in a lot of right places at a lot of right times.
As he eyed B.C. social reform as a young orator, Caesar (Jeremy Sisto) became more of a player within the ranks after impressing Pompey (Chris Noth) with his stubborn resistance to the tyrant Sulla (Richard Harris).
Having fled Rome with Pompey’s help, he returns upon the dictator’s death years later and climbs up the ranks, but his popularity is too much for the senate to handle, and Caesar and Pompey clash over everything from formal agendas to personal business. Besides, Pompey has already sided with his colleague Cato (Christopher Walken) to get Caesar out of the picture altogether after marrying Caesar’s daughter, Julia (Nicole Grimaudo).
Despite the differences with Pompey, Caesar impresses in conflict, and his legendary Gaul victory divides his associates back home. Some, like Mark Antony (Jay Rodan), want to shed light on his devotion to the common man, claiming his goal was to save Rome from certain invasion. But the detractors win out, convincing the council that his power play will lead to nothing but intolerable arrogance. Then come the Ides of March.
Sisto, known primarily for his mental breakdown prowess in “Six Feet Under,” is everything textbooks have taught us about Caesar: stately, faithful, macho and unafraid. Servicable but unspectacular, he is shown up by two of the hammiest thesps to ever don a toga: Walken comes on strong but then pulls back, and Harris — this was his last project before dying in October — is full of nuance, sarcasm and brilliant little touches.
Other supporting players are so-so, including Valeria Golino, as spurned wife Calpurnia who still has a heavy heart, and Noth, who looks comfortable but doesn’t light much of a spark.
“Caesar” takes full advantage of its Bulgaria and Malta locations, providing a widescreen-worthy backdrop to several key combat scenes, which are beautifully choreographed and lensed by d.p. Fabio Cianchetti.