Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Coriolanus Review

Recently nominated for a BAFTA, Ralph Fiennes’s directorial debut comes in the form of Coriolanus, a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Fiennes has had a strong and substantial stage career surrounding Shakespeare’s numerous works, so there was no doubt over his performance. However the choice to adapt Coriolanus as his first directing role is an interesting and brave one. The play itself isn’t the most recognisable work and with a growing reluctance for many to indulge in cultured cinema, its 16th position on the weekend’s Box Office was inevitable. Nevertheless, Fiennes’ first attempt is one that is compelling and filled with emotional dexterity and vigour. 
Set in ‘Rome’, the film follows the growing war between the Romans and the Volscian forces. Rome’s populous has become more aggressive towards Caius Martius Coriolanus’ (Ralph Fiennes), an accomplished, humourless general, political accession. Party opposition gains the support of ‘the people’, and mobilises against Caius culminating in his downfall and banishment from Rome. Vengeful, he forms an alliance with Volscian’s leader Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and orchestrates an invasion on the capital. Shakespeare’s tragedy is a relatively straightforward and engaging tale, never straying too far from the usual tropes of his work. Fiennes changes the period and the ‘costume design’, but keeps the narrative largely the same where it’s themes of social frustration and instability feel topical. Meanwhile, the ‘swords and sandals’ Siege of Corioles is substituted for visceral, modern shoot-outs that manage to settle nicely into the political drama. The script itself keeps the dynamic and sometimes cryptic language of the original source material. While initially feeling out-of-place in the modern context, the interchanges soon become natural and coherent. 
The film’s cast is one with incredible prowess, both experienced and young. Fiennes’ own performance is phenomenally intense and powerful. From his fierce exclamations to subtle hints of emotional fragility, his stern man of valour is one filled with rage, an emotion he excels at portraying. Equally impressive is Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of the autocratic mother, Volumnia. Dressed in military uniform, she delivers her lines passionately and with conviction, culminating a breathtaking scene in the final act. Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and James Nesbit also offer a fantastic supporting cast that manages to leave a lasting impression even with Redgrave’s and Fiennes’ substantial presence. Gerard Butler even manages to provide a memorable performance as the bearded, muscular leader of the tribal Volscians. 
The Hurt Locker and United 93’s cinematographer Barry Ackroyd captures the film’s tense drama and action. From the battle scenes to the numerous confrontations, Ackroyd creates a sophisticated picture. However the use of handheld cameras in certain scenes destroys the poignancy and atmosphere, and a problem with camera focus definitely becomes all too noticeable. Meanwhile the sound design is good, while the soundtrack unfortunately never makes itself apparent. 
Overall Coriolanus is a fierce and well-executed adaptation of one of the ‘lesser’ known Shakespearean works. It’s clear that Coriolanus doesn’t strive to be an grand epic, but rather constrains itself to its ‘ordinary’ locations and rightly focuses on the torment and emotional complexities of each character. And it does that spectacularly. Great performances, engaging story and a sophisticated look, Ralph Fiennes’ debut is a fantastic start to his directing career. 

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