Coriolanus, 2011

dir. Ralph Fiennes

 

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What happens when Shakespeare starts playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? The answer: Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus. What a great play / movie / game or whatever it is. The whole production design, costumes, style and tone is a wondrously multi-cultural blend of Eastern European conflict wastelands and the first 30 minutes is more like a Ridley Scott movie than RSC.

 

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Ralph Fiennes takes a forward position centre stage as the viscous Caius Martius soon to be crowned 'Coriolanus' in honour of the title consul bestowed upon him. His rise to power is a heavy armoured, all guns blazing affair but once he emerges in the public eye as a national hero – despite some prior run-ins with the mob – he shys away from all the publicity. The bureaucracy stifles him. All the paparazzi, all the praise lavished on him and the judgemental politicians scheming behind his back and the bloodthirsty rabble screaming for attention and lo! this man of war, this hardened bullet-munching vet begins to squirm like a maggot pinned under the limelight. Fascinating.

 

 

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I felt the movie sustained the narrative very well but I think the pace was all backwards. The first 30 mins of the film has the most amazing, breathtaking action sequences spliced with A-class performances of Shakespeare, particularly on the part of Vanessa Redgrave who balances the over-obsessive mother syndrome with political awareness like two spinning plates. And the middle, though it slows down, is still fairly entertaining. But where was the big pay off? If only they'd just one more 10 min action sequence during the second rebellion and I'd stamp 5 Stars on it and sing its praises from the mountain tops. Alas, there was no climax, there was no fulfilment of the promise made, particularly offensive as there was clearly plenty of cause in the storyline itself for such an important pay off. Look, I'm as willing to spend 4 hours in the boiling hot basement of an underground theatre at the pub and watch a fringe production of Hamlet as the next man. But when you deal with the medium of film it comes with a whole different set of rules than theatre and one of them is this; because the image dictates what the eye sees, it must be of an increased visual stimulus to make up for the lack of organic substance. And of course, not every film I watch needs to be a big action movie. Yet again, another rule of cinema is 'once you start, you can't stop' and if you don't bring action sequences back for one last crescendo at the end of a film which started with them you will always leave the audience feeling disappointed. Once a precedence for violence has been set in a story it must not be neglected or else the oscillation of primal energies will miss a step in the mind of the viewer, particularly the male one. Presumably the budget ran out which is a great shame but it's a bloody good effort nonetheless and the first half of the movie is absolutely bang on.

 

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And Brian Cox, another great actor of our time, speaks the Shakespeare so very fluently and clearly which is important for his role in particular as it explains so much of the narrative. I remember his voice over as Macbeth with some nostalgia, such a powerful and recognizable voice – and Scottish too! (which made a nice change to see Macbeth actually performed by a Scotsman, psyke) – in The Shakespeare: Animated Tales cartoon (1992) and I'm pleased to report he still has the magic Shakespeare touch. The supporting cast is pretty good too, James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson heading up the anti-Coriolanus faction in the senate and stirring the rabble to rebellion. Oh and look out for Gerard Butler actually caning the role of Coriolanus' arch-nemesis Aufidius, Volsci supreme commander! I always thought he was just another Hollywood pin-up boy but apparently he's made of sterner stuff as this film demonstrates, I guess Shakespeare will always show us what an actor's truly made of.

 

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