Tuesday, February 14, 2012


A Leader Of Rome Who Despises Leadership

Ralph Fiennes as the title character, Vanessa Redgrave as Volumina and Gerard Butler (background, center) as Tullus Aufidius in Mr. Fiennes' directorial debut "Coriolanus". 
The Weinstein Company


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, February 14
, 2012

Direct and as blunt as a dull knife, the riveting and powerful "Coriolanus" marks the splendid directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, who plays the title character of William Shakespeare's man who seeks but rejects power in the title Consul, is banished from Rome and then pays a price when aligning with his enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to exact revenge on the city.  "Coriolanus" is at its essence vintage Shakespeare, full-blooded passion stripped of the formulaic movie sentiment and overture often found in much of the Bard of Avon's work on the big screen.  As adapted by "Hugo" screenwriter John Logan "Coriolanus" is unapologetic.  Audiences will either like its pin-point Shakespeare dialogue and ruggedness or won't at all.  Shakespeare lovers will relish in Mr. Fiennes' zest as well as the ensemble performers' zeal injected into their characters.

"Coriolanus" is a showcase of strong performances, foremost Mr. Fiennes as the rabid, ferocious and reluctant Caius Martius Coriolanus, who is under siege from the city of Rome as its citizens are starving due to a food shortage.  Martial law has been imposed.  The people take to the streets en masse to demand food.  Their contempt of Coriolanus is furious and met by their equally contemptuous leader.  Early on Aufidius is seen sharpening his blade, with an eye on the television before him, which has an image of Coriolanus on it.  This juxtaposition tells us blood will be shed.  Lots of it. 

Set in contemporary Rome, Mr. Fiennes' drama is about one man's perception of power and the impossibility of satisfaction with any benefit it may bring.  Coriolanus sees power as a weakness and the people of Rome as unworthy of having empty words bestowed upon them to keep their sense of goodwill and trust in a leader who hardly believes in himself let alone them.  Power is an absurdity for Coriolanus, but revenge is an identifiable and unquenchable object he hungers for.  His steadfast counsel advise him; often he does not listen. 

Vanessa Redgrave does her best big screen work in many years as Volumina, the mother of Coriolanus.  Her fiery, impassioned rhetoric at the climax of the film is memorable.  Perhaps ironically, Ms. Redgrave was featured as Queen Elizabeth I in Roland Emmerich's "Anonymous" (2011), which pondered the idea that Shakespeare was a fraud, not the writer of a single word of the works the world has come to know.  Ms. Redgrave was terrific in that film, and even better here.  Jessica Chastain, in her fifth film of 2011, is also good as Virgilia, further underscoring a remarkable calendar year on the big screen.  ("Coriolanus" opened in New York City and Los Angeles last December to qualify for Academy Awards consideration.)  Mr. Butler does the best work of his career as Aufidius, his restraint and discipline commendable.  Mr. Butler absorbs moments well, allowing them to come to him rather than forcing them to occur.

Mr. Fiennes allows his camera to move into faces and conflagrations with ease, hurling us effortlessly into the unrest on display.  His direction is assured, methodical and spare.  Each image is precious and forthright, conveying a maelstrom and intensity that boils in the eyes of the faces we see.  "Coriolanus" is pure theater, physical, energetic, its grand chaos spilling out on the screen in measured and anarchical doses, yet both equally as potent.

"Coriolanus" has a cold, callous heart and a musculature of sheer guts.  Mr. Fiennes hurls venom into the camera at every opportunity from deep within the antagonized heart of his character but his near-silence in the film's final 30 minutes is deafening and effective, one of the film's rare moving moments, as are desperate appeals to reason by Volumina.  Vigorous, challenging and volatile, "Coriolanus" ruggedly guides us into the tormented heart of a man dissatisfied with his responsibilities and disdainful of his people.  He doesn't like who he sees in the mirror.

With: Brian Cox, John Kani, Lubna Azabal, Ashraf Barhom, Paul Jesson, James Nesbitt, Jon Snow, Nikki Amuka-Bird.

"Coriolanus" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some bloody violence.  The film's running time is two hours and four minutes. 

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