Monday, July 02, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Coriolanus (2011) ***

R, 123 min.
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writers: John Logan, William Shakespeare (play)
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, John Kani, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson

I was a drama major at Hofstra University, which boasts one of the best undergraduate Shakespearean acting programs available. Everyone in the department had a huge volume of the complete works of Shakespeare. Throughout a four-year program all read most of those plays. A select few were not read. Despite my knowledge of Shakespeare, I only had a vague notion that the play “Coriolanus” even existed until British actor Ralph Fiennes decided to make his directorial debut with a film production of it.

Fiennes and his screenwriter John Logan have updated the story to a modern war torn European state. Shakespeare’s story is set mostly in Rome, for Fiennes purposes title cards indicate that although they call this place Rome, it isn’t necessarily the Rome you’re thinking of. Filmed in Serbia and Montenegro, the setting seems right for the story depicted. That story is one of political corruption and misinformation that leads to revenge and tragedy, as so many of Shakespeare’s dramas do.

Having been so immersed in Shakespeare at one point in my life, I’m always drawn to film adaptations of his works. Being unfamiliar with this particular play made for a more unique experience watching it. I would say that this is not one of his better plays, but Fiennes and his cast do a commendable job making it palatable to a modern setting. Much of Shakespeare’s words here are repetitive and overly concerned with the posturing of the characters, of which there is a great deal. It is a political story after all.

It’s slow to get moving, but once it does it comes across as biting criticism against modern politics. I suppose, since the play was written in the early 1600s, politics haven’t changed much with the passage of time. The political manipulators here, who want nothing more than for people to never understand their proposed leader, set one against the other. I found it interesting that the politicians here wear a blue tie and a red tie. I don’t know if Fiennes intended this to represent the Democrats and Republicans of our country or if he’s attacking conservative and socialistic ideals in general as being one and the same. Either way, the message is clear that neither party has the country’s best interest in mind, only their own necks. It’s important that both these political symbols are working for the same outcome here, though.

There is a great deal of side switching going on in this story, however. The protagonist eventually goes to his enemy to offer his services in revenge against the country that banished him due to the manipulation of facts by the two politicians. Fiennes plays the banished Coriolanus and Gerard Butler his longtime enemy turned ally. Butler is the surprise of the movie, spending most of the early scenes with his typical brooding and menace. Later he seems the stable one to Fiennes emotionally torn Coriolanus. It all makes for a compelling Shakespeare adaptation, despite the fact that it isn’t one of the more verbally rich ones.

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