Jun 11, 2012|
Coriolanus is damn obscure. Perhaps the least-known Shakespearean play of all, not many have read it, and those who have found it difficult to understand. But luckily, the film adaptation is a different story. In being transported from the 5th century BC to modern times, the original play is stripped down to a lucid, solemn and gripping thriller, set in “a place calling itself Rome,” that stays true to the Bard’s sharp depiction of politics and human behavior—and also keeps his language.
The film is helmed by Ralph Fiennes, making his directorial debut a decade after tackling the titular character in a stage production. He also reprises his role as General Caius Martius, a steely warrior whose battle valor makes him a national hero, yet whose open contempt for the plebeians turns the people against him.
News reels show that this Rome is an authoritarian state in tough times, plagued by food shortages and street riots. But at least it’s safe from invasion after Caius defeats his sworn enemy, commander of the Volscians, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), in the battle of Corioles—for which he is bestowed the honorific last name “Coriolanus.” Pushed by his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and the idealistic Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) to use the victory as a golden ticket to the position of Roman consul, he reluctantly enters the election but refuses to court the voting public. Fickle and easily manipulated, the citizens come to banish Coriolanus from the city. Betrayed by the people he has risked his life to defend, Coriolanus thinks of nothing but vengeance, and allies with Tullus to form an invincible force that Rome hasn’t a chance of surviving.
In keeping with Greek mythology, the story doesn’t end well for our tragic hero, who is fated to suffer for his arrogance and desire for revenge. But backed by an impeccable supporting cast, Fiennes’ astonishingly visceral portrayal presents a sympathetic man whose only fault, really, is to stand by his integrity when surrounded by exploitative forces. These brutal insights into the human ego, corruption and betrayal are well captured by screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Rango), who, to create an authentic reinterpretation, aggressively edited and reconstructed the play but kept the original lines.
The Hurt Locker cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s handheld camerawork gives the film a documentary-like realism. And the percussion-heavy score by Ilan Eshkeri wonderfully highlights the film’s brooding intensity. Due to funding struggles, it took Fiennes two years to complete this project of passion, but the final product is something that really resonates, especially with Occupy Wall Street and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in the memory.