Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review of CORIOLANUS (Ralph Fiennes, 2012)

Voldemort does Shakespeare


After targeting concentration camp inmates and a boy wizard in some of his darkest acting roles, Ralph Fiennes sets his sights on a lesser known Shakespearean tragedy for his film directing debut.

John Logan’s screenplay takes the Bard’s original script as a foundation for a contemporary re-telling of General Coriolanus’ rampage of war, oppression, family strife and political wrangling.

Old Shakey’s wordplay might be as  impenetrable to many younger viewers as the ‘youth-speak’ of last year’s Attack the Block was to many older viewers, but Fiennes lets the performances and violent set-pieces do much of the talking in this confident and clever adaptation.

Unlike Baz Luhrmann’s flashy 1996 Romeo + Juliet update that featured heartthrob Leo DiCaprio swooping Claire Danes off her feet to a modern soundtrack, MTV style editing and hyperactive camerawork, Fiennes’ direction is far more restrained and less likely to grab a teen audience.

However, Shakespeare’s theatrical language for the most part translates well to the screen.  The themes of power, politics and the rule of the people versus leadership and authority feel particularly relevant with comparisons easy to draw with contemporary movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring.

As well as calling the shots, Fiennes takes the lead role of Caius Martius Coriolanus.  Amidst riots in his home, the general of ‘A Place Calling Itself Rome’ leads his army against the Volscians and their leader, Coriolanus’ sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler).  

After a successful battle but failing to kill his nemesis, Coriolanus returns home to great praise and his loving family.  His mother (a breathtaking performance from Vanessa Redgrave) encourages him to run for consul and despite briefly winning the support of the Roman Senate and the commoners, a pair of scheming senators bring about the general’s downfall as he rails against the idea of the rule of the people.

Coriolanus is banished but joins forces with the Volscians and with the help of his old enemy Aufidius decides to bring ruin to his former city and its people.  The only folks who can stop him are his family and old friend Menenius, a standout performance from the ever reliable Brian Cox.  

With a cameo from Channel Four’s news anchor Jon Snow and the use of what could easily be actual footage from war zones, the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare’s tragedy is easy to digest.  Fiennes uses modern locations, weapons, and details such as televisions, cameras and mobile phones to bring his modern re-telling into the 21st century.

Despite the script’s use of Shakespearean language, fans of writer Logan’s screenplay for Gladiator will be gripped by Coriolanus’ similar mix of violent battles and political drama.

It might slightly over stay its welcome but the film packs enough mighty performances (Fiennes, Redgrave, Cox) and verbal and physical confrontations into the two hour running time to keep both Shakespeare devotees and newcomers alike entertained.