Film Review – Coriolanus (2011)

2011 was the year of William Shakespeare, England’s greatest bard making his name felt in cinema. From the absurd  Julie Taymor The Tempest to the Romeo & Juliet inspired animation Gnomeo & Juliet, we even saw the bard’s integrity been scrutinised in Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous. 2012 William Shakespeare’s legacy will continue as the most adopted writer in history when one of his most complicated plays Coriolanus  marks the directorial debut for the actor we’ve known only as ‘the one who shall not be named’ Lord Voldemort, Ralph Fiennes.

Set in the backdrop of modern day Rome (which is actually Belgrade, Serbia) militarised, repressed common folk. Caius Martius  (Fiennes) a feared general in The Roman army who returns home after a victorious battle against the Volscians in the town of Corioles gaining him the title of Coriolanus. Whilst Caius Martius militaristic mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) with a family friend and politician Menenius (Brian Cox) encourage Caius Martius his future lies as leader of the consul they are blind in the fact that his true strength is on the battlefield. They also fail to spot Cassius Martius open contempt for the people he calls himself a hero too when in reality he is the most hated figure and a tyrant. In the fear of a city uprising Caius Martius is banished from the city fleeing to the part of the world, you would not expect him to go to, heading to Tullius Aufidius (Gerard Butler) his sworn enemy the leader of the Volscians and together with the join forces to overthrow Rome.

Despite been a bold attempt to make a literature master’s work more accessible to the general populous history has highlighted Shakespeare and modern cinema haven’t had a good relationship over the years. Many previous works have flopped at the box office even the more popular works haven’t faired well either so one of the more ‘lesser known’ works such as Coriolanus has certainly got its work cut out to appease the general film fan. No matter if you’ve heard of Shakespeare or even read his work, those who have it might have been since school days since there ears heard the Shakespearian dialogue. There is the small matter if it is been since school since you’ve last heard that could be a part of your life you rather not visit again!

Watching this, it took me around 10 to 15 minutes to get to grips with Shakespearian dialogue in a modern setting, ironically it was also this stage at the preview I was watching some people had enough and walked out. The opening scenes of Coriolanus opens with the bloody intense warfare which was helped also with the ‘guerilla style’ camera techniques last seen in The Hurt Locker, Black Hawk Down giving you that true feeling bloody gritty modern warfare. The camera style does work to a certain degree which war is a dirty thing but when the camera style does leave the battlefield of soldiers to the battlefield between politicians its doesn’t seem to work as well.

So does the contemporary settings work? For purists it wouldn’t matter what setting the play or film is set in as long as the dialogue is true to the story that’s all that matters, so they would n’t care even if Coriolanus was set on the moon its all down to been faithful to the original texts.  As I said earlier if your not familiar to William Shakespeare you will be lost in space as I was and one example is in the film’s narration. Fiennes uses the war  through the narration using modern day News Tv Channels as its base like BBC, CNN which gave forth to a unexpected cameo from Channel 4 news anchor John Snow which brought a chorus of laughters within the cinema, its this which was the point many decided not to take the film seriously.

The casting I have to admit is the strong point of the film. Fiennes is certainly in his comfort zone, giving a a intense passionate performance showing off his true Thespian blood like Gerard Butler who also has played in Coriolanus on stage before, he gives a decent performance not exactly his best (though better than anything between 300 and  Machine Gun Preacher) but not his worst either. Vanessa Redgrave is the true star here as Caius Martius Mother Volumnia, she captivates the intensity of the film and proves mother knows best, her final scene was nothing but fantastic. Brian Cox, James Nesbitt also give great performances as the films politicians showing the opposite sides of political intrigue. Sadly for Jessica Chastain I don’t think had enough screen time (as did Butler) to really say if her performance overall merited a positive response however what we did say we could say anything wrong about it.

Overall Coriolanus is not a bad film, it’s obvious this was a personal project for Ralph Fiennes which probably limit the target audience. It was a complex story as well as a bold choice for a first time director, however, it’s from an actor with an exceptional acting background and he does do well bring relevance to what’s happening today. If your ear isn’t used to hearing Shakespearian dialogue plus a film that’s over 2 hours long Coriolanus will be the last thing you want to see however if you fancy seeing something a little more sophisticated you could do no wrong by checking this one out.

★★★1/2|Paul Devine

War, Drama | UK, 2011 | 15| Lionsgate Films | 20th January 2012 (UK) |Dir.Ralph Fiennes |Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain

posted at The Peoples MoviesThe Peoples Movies on 22nd January 2012

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