Apr 26, 2012|
(UK) Directed by Ralph Fiennes. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain. Category IIB.
There’s a reason why “Coriolanus” has never been brought to the silver screen until now: it’s damn obscure. Owing to its elusive complexity and a relatively non-lyrical style, the final part of the historical Roman trilogy (which also consists of “Julius Caesar” and “Antony and Cleopatra”) is perhaps the least-known Shakespearean play of all; not many have read it, and those who have found it difficult to understand. But luckily, its film adaptation is a different story.
Set in the modern world while using Shakespearean language, “Coriolanus” the film strips the original play down to a lucid, solemn and gripping thriller, yet stays true to the Bard’s sharp depiction of politics and human behavior. It is helmed by Ralph Fiennes, who, a decade after tackling the titular character in a stage production, daringly took on such challenging material for an (some may say over) ambitious directorial debut. Transporting the story from the 5th century BC to today at “a place calling itself Rome” (a vaguely European industrial city that by no means resembles the Italian capital), the film was shot in Belgrade, Serbia, and stars Fiennes as he reprises the role of General Caius Martius. The icy, hard warrior’s battle valor makes him a national hero, yet his open contempt of the plebeians turns the people against him.
TV news reels show you that Rome is an authoritarian state in rough times, plagued by food shortages and street riots. But at least the city is safe from invasion for now, as Caius defeats his sworn enemy and commander of the Volscians, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), in the battle of Corioles—for which he is bestowed the honorific last name “Coriolanus.” Pushed by his ex-militant mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and the idealistic Senator Menenius (Brian Cox), who both see the victory as a golden opportunity for him to seek the position of Roman consul, Coriolanus reluctantly enters the election, but refuses to court the voting public. Fickle and easily manipulated, the citizens—instigated by wily politicians—come to the decision of banishing Coriolanus from the city. Betrayed by the people that he has risked his life to defend, Coriolanus thinks of nothing but vengeance. To achieve it, he allies with Tullus, forming an invincible force that Rome doesn’t stand a chance of surviving.
The story, of course, doesn’t end well for Coriolanus; in Greek-Mythology fashion, the tragic hero is fated to suffer for his arrogance and desire for revenge. But in the meantime, Fiennes’ astonishingly visceral portrayal presents a sympathetic man whose only fault, really, is to stand by his integrity and honesty when surrounded by despicable people who exploit both his glories and flaws. And while they thrive with their vile intentions, Coriolanus must pay for his aching purity.
Such brutal and cynical insights into the human ego, corruption and betrayal are well captured by screenwriter John Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Aviator,” “Rango”), who shares a passion for the play and a similar vision for the film with Fiennes. To create an authentic reinterpretation, he edited and reconstructed the play aggressively but kept the original lines. The result is something that well resonates in our contemporary world where Occupy Wall Street and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan take place.
“The Hurt Locker” cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s handheld camerawork gives the film a documentary-like realism. And the percussion-heavy score by Ilan Eshkeri wonderfully highlights the film’s brooding intensity. Due to funding struggles, it took Fiennes two years to complete this passion project. The final product is so amazingly well-done that one can hardly believe it’s only his first foray behind the camera. On screen, the veteran continues to stun, and is backed by an impeccable supporting cast. Cox, Butler and Jessica Chastain, playing Coriolanus’s meek wife, are all in top form; but Redgrave, as the steely-spined mother who takes supreme pride in seeing her son’s battle wounds, rises above and beyond. In a 10-minute sequence, Volumnia and Coriolanus engage in an emotional confrontation that reduces the hero to tears, and the two powerhouses’ clash is sheer cinematic awesomeness to say the least.