Sunday, February 19, 2012


Transposing a lesser-known Shakespeare play into the modern era seems doesn't play so well initially, but comes to pay off in Ralph Fiennes' emotionally charged "Coriolanus." He moves it to a modernized Rome that engages in an intense back-and-forth with a nearby city. The dialogue at the beginning comes off as line-reading; later on, for the most part, it enriches the proceedings. It sets the stage for some of 2011's best acting, which was criminally neglected during awards season. Sure, it's over-the-top much of the time, but that's what makes all the more moving in this case.

Coriolanus (Fiennes) is a general who wants to be consul (for those not schooled in Roman politics, that means like president/leader). He's valiant, to be sure: he fought a one-on-one battle with his most bitter enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and almost won. But he also doesn't really care about his people, not giving them bread (or circuses, in this case). A rebellious force has emerged, led by Tamora and Cassius (Lubna Azabal of "Incendies" and Ashraf Barhom, respectively) and the tribunes they want to be consul (James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson), and they want Coriolanus out. This leads him to do some crazy things.

Also worth mentioning in this are Coriolanus' right hand man, Senator Menenius (Brian Cox), his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), and his wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain). These are the only three people in his life, especially the latter two, and especially his mother, whom he feels any emotional connection to. They also provide the film with its heart; without them, the film would be nowhere as poignant as it ultimately is.

The acting by the leads, once they settle in (so to speak, I have no idea whether or not this was shot in sequence), is essentially impeccable. So the problem lies elsewhere. The film drags a lot in the middle, and at times, certain parts make an odd fit with one another (especially the strange "Call of Duty"-meets-the-Bard section). The film does make an admirable commitment to its enraged (and, to others, enraging) main character until the very end, and does what it can to grip you. For me, it worked, not throughout, but ultimately. B

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