11 November 2012

Film: Coriolanus (2011)

Thoughts: A Shakespearean update that is both interesting, exciting, easy to follow and remarkably fast-paced? That's Coriolanus: directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes as the eponymous anti-hero. Shot and envisioned as a gritty Serbian based conflict, the film offers awesome modern-warfare violence, big beefy monologues, tortured characters and a very cathartic tragedy to bite into. Typical Shakespeare really, but with more action and less men in dresses.

Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a feared military officer for the Romans, who are in eternal conflict with the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). After a practically single-handed taking of the Volscian city of Coriols, Caius is christened with the new title of Coriolanus, and is bumped up into the ranks of General, which includes a sweet consul seat with the senate. Unfortunately though, the very outspoken Coriolanus is kind of a rough hammer type guy: he prefers truth in all its painful bluntness, no sugar-coating or flattery with his words, and no shame in his actions. Most politicians don't really run that way, and within the space of hours, the entire populace is turned against him and he is sent into exile. What's a dragon of a man to do? Why, head over to Volscian city Antium to join forces with his arch-nemesis, and declare war on Rome, of course. Wouldn't you?

Ralph Fiennes kills it, of course. Coriolanus is brutish enigma of a man, with some serious mummy issues (isn't that always the way with Shakespeare?) and who can turn from blunt rage to quivering mess when confronted with his matriarch (played perfectly by Vanessa Redgrave, who handles the dialogue expertly). He is a man who lives and dies by the battlefield and his code of honour, and yet cannot stand his exploits being paid out to the masses as manna from the gods in their palms. It would seem he finds his only true equal in Aufidius, with whom he has met on TWELVE separate occasions on the battlefield. And yet, this is a tragedy, so of course that relationship doesn't work out quite how he would have hoped. When you look at it from the objective, outside perspective, Coriolanus is like a man who just never belonged in this world, never found his right place. And Fiennes plays that marvellously. His version of the character is so awkward in life, in contact with people, and yet with destruction all around and men below him he flourishes. But the men don't respect him, for he is will and fear incarnate. He despises all around, and gives quarter to none- even his own people. And that is his undoing. He is a character with great depth to mine, and Fiennes knows this, hence the existence of this very niche adaptation.

The Shakespearean dialogue is kept in full, and yes, I found it hard to follow at times, mostly because of the rate at which it comes. But I fell in sync soon enough, and anything I missed I caught back to with responses and actions following to fill in the blanks. All the actors bring great performances, despite some of the shallowness to their characters. The characters that are given time are given much to work with: with different levels and motivations and ideas coming through the bard's text. But those that aren't fall sharply short, particularly Coriolanus' estranged wife played by Jessica Chastain. And of course there is the rate at which the film moves. It's good, in fact I was never bored. But with a story of a man's rise and fall in the sphere of politics that relies so heavily on the will of the people and their trust and vote, it literally all happens within moments of one another, and the "people" come across as a singular, easily swayed mass. And when I say lilterally, I mean literally. Coriolanus walks into the marketplace, delivers a very awkward speech, and almost immediately the people are rallied to him. And as soon as he walks away from the party- hell, he's probably still in earshot- two slithering politicians switch the people to the polar opposite of opinion. It's fucking weird and jarring to see, and it happens on multiple occasions. But as I told myself, it is just a means to an end, and it serves well enough in the grand scheme of the film.

But there are speeches, and some fucking awesome monologues. The hairs stood up on my neck and arms a few times particularly during Coriolanus' exile speech. It's a visceral, verbal explosion of bile and vitiriol as I have not often seen, and Fiennes goes for broke.

Seriously, check it out. If you like war films, character films or the great bard's work. Just remember: it is all in 16th dialogue. As long as you understand that, you'll be fine.


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