Monday, 5 March 2012

Film Review: Coriolanus (2011)

Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writer: John Logan
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox

William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus might not be the most famous of his plays, and certainly isn’t, in my opinion, as loved in popular culture as Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, or Much Ado About Nothing; I was surprised, then, when I saw it was to be brought to the big screen in a modern day setting. With Kenneth Branagh (the usual go-to guy for Shakespeare adaptations) making a mess of CGI settings and struggling with a dire story in Thor, this marks the directorial debut of fellow Brit and ‘thesp’ Ralph Fiennes. And what a debut it is.

There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing directors and actors who fully engage and understand the world of the film they are making, and can immerse themselves in the material. Fiennes clearly knows what a modern version of this story should look like and his understanding of the play’s themes and its pulse is evident from the start and never lets up. The film is packed with talent and Fiennes has surrounded his production with some of the industry’s finest.

Telling the tale of a war between the Romans and the Volscians in modern day urban war zone, Fiennes shoots his film entirely handheld and the style works well and is effective at all times; whether it’s putting the viewer in the battles as the bullets fly, or amongst the politicians and family as the drama reaches boiling point. The film’s opening half an hour is electrifying stuff and looks like a sequel to The Hurt Locker and is just a exciting; the sight of Fiennes as Caius Martius (later to be titled Coriolanus) in full military gear with guns and knives with another man’s blood covering his bald head is one of the most striking images I’ll see all year. However, the film is certainly not an action picture and the second half is far more talkative but in these scenes the actors deliver the thrills as we watch the likes of Jessica Chastain (fast becoming my favourite actress), Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave (the film’s best performance) hit all the right marks and, again, show an understanding of the play and the themes, and most importantly, the language. There is nothing more embarrassing than an actor who can’t deliver Shakespearian dialogue if called upon to do so. Even Gerard Butler walks away with his head held high, which is a miracle in itself.

Coriolanus may look like great with its handheld style and urban settings and all star cast, but it is for the more ‘mature minded’ audience who want to think about the character’s motivations and reasons for doing what they do, rather than having it spoon fed to them. If you don’t have the attention span for its 122 minutes, or think that everyone has to swear or say ‘like’ after every other word, then this may go over your head. If however, you can embrace the language, the politics, and appreciate how these can translate to 2012, then Coriolanus is the ticket for you.


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