AFF Review Coriolanus

austin-film-fest.jpg

“O, a kiss.

Long as my exile,

Sweet as my revenge!”

- Caius Martius “Coriolanus”

“Nature teaches beasts to know their friends.”

- Sicinius

Shakespeare adaptations are a difficult proposition. There have been more than 420 feature length film and TV versions of his plays and they are nothing if not a mixed bag. The quality and treatment vary greatly. Some keep the language, others just the plot, some go contemporary, others keep with the classical settings, while others imagine different worlds for the work.

Thing is, even though he wrote 38 plays people really only know about 12.

Hamlet

MacBeth

The Merchant of Venice (Most people don’t even realize that this is considered a comedy)

Romeo and Juliet

Julius Caesar

A Midsummer Nights Dream

Othello

Taming of the Shrew

Henry V

Richard III

King Lear

The Tempest

I know there are more that get adapted, but by and large these are the ones that most people would recognize. Hell, mention “The Two Noble Kinsmen” to most people with English Degrees and you will get a blank look in response.

That’s part of what makes Ralph Finnes’ directorial debut, “Coriolanus” such an interesting experience. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a Shakespeare adaptation without knowing what was going to happen? For someone with such an amazing collection of work, William has certainly become predictable in our world, hasn’t he?

For those unfamiliar, which will be about 99.993% of you reading this, “Coriolanus” is the story of a conquering general who, through political manipulation, is banished from Rome. He immediately goes to the general he recently defeated and agrees to lead those troops in an out right attack on Rome.

I love this story. There is so much potential for amazing action and drama in this story, and the handling of it. This is one of the grittiest movies I’ve seen in ages. It felt like watching an episode of “The Shield,” which I have compared to gritting your teeth for an hour. There is a solid intensity to it that services the nature of our protagonist.

The performances are fantastic. Finnes completely embodies a man raised for war, to whom normal society is nonsensical and lacking in order. You believe his rage and his commitment, which makes his downfall tragic and unavoidable. Gerard Butler is amazing as his blood enemy/comrade. This was a personal project for Butler (this play being one of the first of his acting career) and his love for I is evident. Brian Cox is… well, he’s Brian Cox, so he kind of kicks everyone’s ass.

Oh, and it has James Nesbitt. I fucking LOVE James Nesbitt. He is almost instantly the best part of anything he appears in. This guy, if you’re not familiar, get on the stick. Check out “Jeckyll” or “Murphy’s Law” or “Five minutes of Heaven” or “Bloody Sunday” and then be prepared to apologize for being such an asshole that you didn’t know him before.

Also, Vanessa Redgrave is stunning, and Jessica Chastain continues to shine in what I am calling “The Year of Jessica Chastain.” Honestly, she’s in everything, and she is great in everything she is in.

Finnes also makes some incredibly bold choices in directing. This is a modern retelling, filmed in Serbia. The place looks both ravaged by war, and stately. The differences between the nobility and the peasantry are stark and undeniable, and as that difference is so important to the story it adds layers to the drama.

The use of technology is fantastic as well. Instead of heavy dialogue scenes to deliver exposition Finnes makes use of television news, using headlines and images to move the story along.

It also features some of the most brutal and believable battle scenes ever captured on film. You feel the conclusiveness of the explosions, the confusion of battle, and the fatigue. Everything about it feels real.

Butler and Finnes play brilliantly as enemies become allies, a very difficult dynamic to portray.

However, the problem I have is that, as it is a play adapted to a movie, so much of the advancement of the story is reliant on long dialogue scenes. That is, essentially, the problem with most Shakespearean adaptations. His plays were not visual stories they were linguistic stories. When you begin with such ferocious and intense battle scenes it feel a bit of an anticlimax to have everything boil down to a conversation. This is not to say that it is bad to use dialogue, but when you base your film on action it is difficult to shift your focus to dialogue. I kept expecting a climactic battle, and when it didn’t come I felt as if something was missing.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a fantastic adaptation, and one that I think will stand up well over time. The ending was fantastic and fitting, but it was just something different than what I was anticipating.

I won’t lie, this movie is not for everyone. If you don’t enjoy Shakespeare you will probably piss and moan about how hard it is to understand the language, or how long it is, or some other diaper baby nonsense. Yeah, it’s a two hour long movie in Shakespearian English. But it’s also a pretty damned good one.

“Coriolanus” is a story of loyalty, patriotism, betrayal, vengeance, and family. It is gritty, dirty, and intense. You feel the horror of battle, the sting of Coriolanus’ betrayal, and the joy of his revenge. That is the most remarkable thing about this film. You find yourself pulling for the man invading his home. You want to see him tear Rome apart. In essence this film is about how easily people can be lead. How much we want and need to have someone to follow and how far we are willing to follow those leaders. It is a visceral story that comes very close to being perfect. Sadly, people have convinced themselves so fully of Shakespeare’s impenetrability that it will not get the audience it should.



Share