Coriolanus Movie Review - www.impulsegamer.com -

Coriolanus 

    Reviewed by Damien Straker on March 4th, 2012
    Icon Films
presents a film directed by Ralph Fiennes
    Screenplay by John Logan, based on the play 'Coriolanus' by William
    Shakespeare

    Starring:
Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave and
    Jessica Chastain

    Running Time:
122 mins
    Rating: M
    Released:  March 8th, 2012


6/10

 

 

This is a modern day version of Shakespeare's play that retains the classical language of the original production. The play is based on the life of the Roman General Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, the legend of whom is still contested by some historians. Shakespeare wrote the play in the early 1600s but here it has been appropriated to the modern combat zone of Rome. Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) leads a group of fellow soldiers on a strike mission, taking down their adversaries of the state. Yet in a standoff he fails to defeat his main enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Returning from combat and Coriolanus is praised as a hero. Yet he upsets the public when they believe that he is mocking them and is sent into exile, away from his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and his son.


I appreciated this modern version of Coriolanus, directed by its star Ralph Fiennes, more as a concept or theory of appropriation than as a pure cinematic experience. This film asks us about timelessness and authorship but not in ways that it would ever intend. Choosing to set the film in modern times but keeping the Early Modern English dialogue is problematic. Preserving the colourful language means that the film is true to the play and its timeless themes but also potentially distancing for modern audiences too. There are some wonderful lines here like: "There is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger." Yet if you are unfamiliar with this style of dialogue it will challenge how much you can invest in the story and characters. In being familiar with some Shakespearean plot devices, narratives and characters I was able to access the film but only in a broad overview of the narrative when there are probably much more subtle dimension to the side characters that one could miss. At least anyone familiar with 'King Lear' (1603) though will recognise elements like the exile of a leader, the failure to listen to the public because of one's hubris and the tragic ending. By remaining so faithful to the play Fiennes the director, not the actor, fails to transcend the story towards the cinematic medium. There's an early battle scene that is excitingly staged, without restoring too thickly to blood. It looks like it could be any modern combat zone and realises the timelessness of the play to current issues of dictatorships, which is one of the reasons Fiennes was interested in the piece. Interestingly, the play was banned in Germany following the Second World War, because it was linked too closely with fascism.


Yet despite its universal themes there are still moments that don't bode well to the modern period because of the emphasis on retaining the theatrical design. After the opening battle, the knife fight between the two soldiers as everyone stands around watching seems particularly unlikely. Similarly, as much as I'd like to see some people from TV banished, a call to exile from an audience watching Coriolanus in an interview doesn't fit either or at least seems too compressed. What remains are some incredibly long stretches of dialogue, which are testing, no matter how much conviction is provided by the cast. When Fiennes resorts to more cinematic techniques, like tight close up shots of the faces of the actors, including an outstanding Redgrave, he reveals and amplifies the anger in these character and we feel the impact of the story. It is far more engaging than just having the actors surrounded by clusters of bodies, like in a play. Disappointingly, the supporting cast doesn't match the leads because the likes of Jessica Chastain are underused and don't have enough to do. But if another version of King Lear were made, she would be a perfect Cordelia because her face is an emotive one of great innocence. Although you can appreciate the timelessness of the original plays themes and its overall essence here, I think those who are particularly familiar with the source material and general Shakespearean tropes will draw the most from the film's narrative and the performances.






 
 



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