Coriolanus

13 Feb

Title: Coriolanus
Year: 2012
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writer: John Logan, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Paul Jesson
MPAA Rating: R, some bloody violence
Runtime: 122 min
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 78

 

Yes, I realize Coriolanus was up for 2011 awards and technically it should have counted towards that yearly ranking, but it only got a proper release in 2012 so I’m counting it towards this year’s. And considering I’ve only seen three films from this year, and this early stage of the year isn’t that awesome quality-wise, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the best film of 2012 so far. Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this film, in which he also stars, a modernization of the Shakespeare tragedy. And he really nails it; you really buy into this every single step of the way, it retains the visual and dramatic weight of the play and makes for a really stunning and powerful film, full of really incredible performances across the board.

It’s also a really timely piece to hit the screens, you kind of get an “Occupy Rome” vibe from the riot that takes place, an allegory of modern day politics while still retaining to perfection the language of the Bard, one that’s spoken brilliantly be everyone in this cast, bringing a remarkable intensity to the proceedings. It’s just a viewing experience that really shouldn’t be missed, even if you think you’re going to be turned off by the language let me assure you that won’t be the case, and even though the play was the second-longest in Shakespeare’s oeuvre you’re not in for a four-hour movie or nothing, as John Logan (who wrote the adaptation for my favorite film from last year, Hugo) has managed to really skillfully trim down the play to its bare essence while retaining the piercing language and amazing drama.

Shakespeare is and has always been all about the language, and when you have people like Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox and Ralph Fiennes speaking these words so damn masterfully you’re bound to be awe-struck by everything that’s going on in front of you. Mr. Fiennes plays a Roman general, Caius Martius, nicknamed Coriolanus, a terrifying man because of his apparent lack of empathy, who’s pitted in battle against the Voluscian army that’s led by Aufidius, who’s played by Gerard Butler, an actor that actually surprised me in how well he was delivering this awesome dialogue, and who’s gruffness suited this character really nicely. But Coriolanus is not a man to really be all that sociable with his people, not wanting to cater to them like he should in order to go for the position of Consul his mother pushes him to seek so that he’s more powerful.

When he refuses to play nice with the people, they obviously respond by not backing him up, which means that the hot-tempered Coriolanus has a burst of outrage, that’s all the more awesome to witness thanks to the language it’s spoken in. And his anger prompts a riot that, as he’s separated from both his family and his city, results in his banishment from Rome. Which in turn results in him becoming allies with Aufidius in order to exact revenge on the city he once led. It’s such a complex character, one that can’t be softened by his wife, played by the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, but that can be manipulated by his mother, Volumnia played by Ms. Redgrave in a sensational performance, with whom he shares a relationship that borders on incest. The scenes between Mr. Fiennes and Ms. Redgrave are by far the best of the whole film for me, they are the key scenes to get to know this man, and the acting on display by Ms. Redgrave is just a masterclass.

As a director Mr. Fiennes shows some really nice promise, I guess you learn a thing or two working with the Spielberg’s and Minghella’s of the world. He knows that Shakespeare’s themes are still incredibly relevant in a modern setting, and the decisions he makes to show us a nation about to crumble because of war and inequality, as well as to show Coriolanus as the macho man hero to be powerful while conceding nothing of himself, are really neat to watch. Here is a man who can’t connect emotionally at all, and who’s intense commitment to his military chores makes people dislike the idea of connecting with him, too. We never really know exactly what it is that makes him tick, but we do realize that when he does tick he explodes.

The film, which has some really neat cinematography by Barry Ackroyd (who was an Oscar-nominee for The Hurt Locker, in which Mr. Fiennes starred) is brutal and bleak and it never really offers another way out than the one it presents to us. And in the relationship that develops between Coriolanus and Aufidius you see two men who are enemies but who are cut from the same cloth as well, two men who live to wage war and to win them, but who couldn’t really survive in a world in which they really won and the wars ceased. Coriolanus is a film to admire, a film to really lose yourself into, to soak in the language and marvel at the acting in display. The one catch is that there’s too much action set pieces going on considering it’s Shakespeare, and there’s too much Shakespeare language being spoken considering it’s an action movie. But still, it works, it works really, really well.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “Coriolanus”

  1. youjivinmeturkey February 13, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    I Sincerely CANNOT WAIT To See This One!
    I Love Everything About Ralph Fiennes, So I’m VERY Anxious To See How Well He Directs AND Stars in A Film of This Type.
    Could Be AMAZING…
    …or Not…
    …But I’m Hopin’ For AMAZIN’AMAZING!!! hehehe
    -BRADLEY

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