alibi online
Free Will AstrologyAlibi's Personals
 
 V.21 No.20 | May 17 - 23, 2012 

Film Review

Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes takes Shakespeare’s most obscure tragedy and adds a lot of firepower

“Welcome to the Col. Kurtz Crazy Ex-Military Guy Training Camp. Step one: Shave your head.”
“Welcome to the Col. Kurtz Crazy Ex-Military Guy Training Camp. Step one: Shave your head.”

Coriolanus

Directed by Ralph Fiennes

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave

I’m not sure there was ever anything edgy or avant-garde about staging a Shakespeare play in modern day. Even if there was at one time, we can probably agree that’s no longer the case. In fact, setting Macbeth in postapocalyptic Detroit or Romeo and Juliet in whatever era you find stuffed in the community theater’s prop closet is so commonplace now that seeing a Shakespeare play in full 16th century regalia is becoming the rarity.

So, on the surface of the thing, actor Ralph Fiennes gets no bonus points for giving a modern, men-with-guns military slant to his Shakespeare-derived directorial debut. He does, however, get a bit of extra credit for choosing what is arguably Shakespeare’s most obscure play, the militant revenge saga Coriolanus.

“Would you like to spoon?”
“Would you like to spoon?”

Bald and badass, Fiennes stars as Caius Martius, a celebrated general in 5th century B.C. Rome who acquires the cognomen (sort of an ancient Roman nickname) Coriolanus after his sound defeat of the rebellious Volscian commander Tullus Aufidius at the city of Corioles. (I’m guessing that sentence alone was enough to lose two-thirds of our readers.) Stripped of his troops by strong resistance, our man Caius refused to accept defeat. Instead, he went full-tilt Rambo, gunning down dozens of enemy soldiers, painting himself in the blood of the enemy and then engaging in a mano-a-mano knife fight with Aufidius himself (played with commensurate manliness by Gerard Butler). It’s a testosterone-heavy display, one that elevates him to hero status back home in Rome.

Naturally, people start talking about what a great consul this Coriolanus guy would make. Backed by his powerful patrician mother and a couple of opportunistic politicians, the war hero is poised to become Rome’s next great ruler.

All Shakespearian heroes must, by definition, come with a tragic flaw, however. Coriolanus’ seems to be that he’s a blustery jerk. He’s not interested in pumping up his role as a war heronot because he’s humble, exactly. Mostly, he just doesn’t give a crap about the common people. He has little in common with the politicians who run Rome and even less with the plebeians on the street. He’s brusque, short-tempered and pathologically incapable of kissing assa necessary skill for any would-be leader. Coriolanus is a soldier, a weapon that needs to be pointed at an enemy. Without a war to fight, he’s useless. It isn’t long before the fickle people of Rome are bored with their hero, and Coriolanus’ political allies turn against him for their own gain. Pissed off and pumped up, Coriolanus cooks up a nasty revenge plot against all of Rome and goes looking for his old enemy Aufidius. Trust me, this ain’t gonna end well.

If you aren’t already well-versed in Shakespearian language, you probably shouldn’t bother with Coriolanus. While the costumes, the props and the Hurt Locker-style camerawork pay lip service to the modern setting, Willy’s dialogue remains unaltered. Unlike Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, the language isn’t even inflected for modern audiences. Despite the fact that screenwriter John Logan (The Last Samurai, Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo) trims Shakespeare’s original text to the bare bones to incorporate more high-caliber gunplay and bloodletting, the man of the hour, Mr. Ralph Fiennes, remains an iambic pentameter purist. In his popular 1996 adaptation, Luhrmann used the modern setting to make cheeky jokes. (When characters talked about using swords when they were clearly holding guns, it was OKbecause “Sword” was the brand name stamped on the weapons.) Here, dense, florid prose is mixed incongruously with a violent, explosive-filled action flick. The mix is an uneasy one.

Acting-wise, there’s a decent amount to praise. Fiennes, who has drifted toward villainous overacting of late (Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, Hades in Clash of the Titans) reins it in a bit here. Butler is credible as the strong-but-silent enemy-turned-ally of our doomed protagonist. (Even if he does add another thick accent to a cast list already choked with British, American, Nigerian, Israeli and Yugoslavian voices.) Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt and Jessica Chastain (damn, she’s in everything now) round out the better-than-average cast.

The film was shot in some of the crappier, more war-torn chunks of Serbia, and it manages to work in a few modern references to justify the setting. Visuallywith its cable news narrators and jittery war correspondent cameraworkit mirrors the televised history of various Eastern European conflicts. (The only thing missing are blue-helmeted U.N. troops.) It also finds a philosophical kinship with the 99 percent movement. (Evidently, politicians, warmongers and rich folks have always told average citizens to kiss off.) For all the flourishes Fiennes and his crew add, however, Coriolanus isn’t all that gripping a story. It’s severely lacking in the hero department. Coriolanus isn’t the fascinatingly conflicted monster that Macbeth or Hamlet become. He’s just an angry, violent, holier-than-thou asshole.

Once the language has settled into your brain and things stop blowing up, Coriolanus does find itself an enjoyably dark groove. With its blood-soaked cast, nobody’s-gonna-win scenario and frequent metaphorical language about beasts, monsters and animals, Coriolanus is The Bard at his most bruising. But, for all its postmodern tinkering, Fiennes’ take remains a treat solely for dyed-in-the-wool Willy the Shake scholars.


Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes turns director for this dark, modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's most obscure tragedy. Fiennes plays a Roman general who fights off some rebels, becomes a hero and then finds himself held up for political office. It all goes to hell (mostly because he's a prick), and soon our hotheaded protagonist is vowing revenge against all Rome. There's some good acting here--Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave and James Nesbitt are among the supporting cast. The script (by Gladiator scribe John Logan) strips away a lot of the dialogue to make room for some high-caliber action movie bloodletting amid Willy the Shake's hard-to-decipher poetry. But the problem remains the basic plot, which lacks sympathetic characters and a compelling story arc. 122 minutes R. (Opens Saturday 5/19)

 

Today's Events

Cine de la Epoca de Oro: Pueblerina at South Broadway Cultural Center

Classic Mexican film starring Columba Domínguez and Roberto Cañedo. Part of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema series.

Black Friday (1940) at KiMo Theatre

Tomorrow's Events

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) at KiMo Theatre

More Recommented Events ››
Join our mailing list for exclusive info, the week's events and free stuff!
 

  • Select sidebar boxes to add below. You can also click and drag to rearrange the boxes; close using the little X icons on each box. To re-add a box you closed, return to this menu.
  • Because you are not logged in, any changes you make to these boxes will vanish as soon as you click to another page. If you log in, the boxes will stick.
  • alibi.com
  • Latest Posts
  • Web Exclusives
  • Recent Rocksquawk Discussions
  • Recent Classifieds
  • Latest User Posts
  • Most Active Users
  • Most Active Stories
  • Calendar Comments
  • Upcoming Alibi Picks
  • Albuquerque
  • Duke City Fix
  • Albuquerque Beer Scene
  • What's Wrong With This Picture?
  • Reddit Albuquerque
  • ABQ Journal Metro
  • ABQrising
  • ABQ Journal Latest News
  • Del.icio.us Albuquerque
  • NM and the West
  • New Mexico FBIHOP
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • Only in New Mexico
  • Mario Burgos
  • Democracy for New Mexico
  • High Country News
  • El Grito
  • NM Politics with Joe Monahan
  • Stephen W. Terrell's Web Log
  • The Net Is Vast and Infinite
  • Slashdot
  • Freedom to Tinker
  • Is there a feed that should be on this list? Tell us about it.
    3 BAD JACKS
    3 BAD JACKS9.23.2014