Thursday, 1 March 2012
FILM REVIEW: CORIOLANUS
Icon Film Distribution
Pride is the deadliest of the seven sins, and Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) has it in spades. But pride also cometh before the fall, and the Roman general, recently dubbed Coriolanus in honour of his efforts fighting insurgents in the city of Corio, is about to take an almighty tumble off the pedestal from which the government -- though, pointedly, not the people -- of Rome have placed him.
While Caius has strong support from both Senator Menenius (Brian Cox), and his mother, Volumnia (a commanding Vanessa Redgrave), some members of the parliament (James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson) and the citizens of Rome are less enamoured with the man.
They appreciate his war efforts but not his attitude to their plight, and when Caius refuses to beg for their endorsement for a Senate seat, people power prevails and the General must accept banishment from Rome or face execution.
But Hell hath no fury like a proud General scorned, as Caius seeks revenge on Rome by forming an uneasy alliance with Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), leader of the the Volscian insurgents and his sworn enemy (we witness the pair do hand-to-hand combat at the battle of Corio).
Fiennes, making his directorial debut, and screenwriter-of-the-moment, John Logan (Hugo and Rango), adapting William Shakespeare's play, wisely decide against a self-consciously "modern" setting (like Richard Loncraine's 1930's set Richard III (1995) and Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996)) for Coriolanus.
Instead we get the recognisable concrete jungles and corridors of power of an international capital. And Rome (actually Belgrade, Serbia and shot by The Hurt Locker's cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd) has never looked so drab and unappealing; its people demonstrate in the streets for food, and civil war is waged on the outskirts of the city and throughout the country.
All of this provides Coriolanus with an immediacy and modern relevance, and yet I failed to be fully engaged. Admittedly, I'm not as Shakespeare savvy as I'd like to be but it wasn't the language I struggled with. Indeed, the only time the film came to life for me was when Redgrave was on screen.
The veteran British actress can recite the Bard as easily as she breathes and her Volumnia, proud yet overbearing mother who revels in the reflected glory of Caius's triumphs, provides an oomph which the battle scenes and bloodletting didn't.
Redgrave also manages to make Jessica Chastain (this being one of six films the actress appeared in in 2011) seem anaemic by comparison, although the role of Virgilia, Caius's loyal yet cautious wife, isn't that fullblooded to begin with.
Coriolanus may also appear to be a safe choice for Fiennes' directorial debut -- like Redgrave, Shakespeare's words flow freely from the actor's tongue -- but familiarity hasn't bred contempt. It's a boldly executed film, and could easily work as introductory Shakespeare in school classrooms as well as engaging a cinema going public who (think they) don't get the Bard.
But like the good people of Rome, I failed to be won over by the many virtues of Coriolanus.