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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 01.20.12] United Kingdom drama war

Year: 2011
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Writers: John Logan, William Shakespeare (play)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

It's little surprise that Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" has seen fewer adaptations than some of the Bard's other tragedies: it's a particularly dark and unmerciful tale of a man with too much pride.

The tale of a military leader returned from war victorious, Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut Coriolanus looks at one man's ambition, pride and his eventual downfall. The style of the film suggests that while on set of The Hurt Locker, Fiennes picked up more than Kathryn Bigelow's cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. The two films don't only share similar visuals styles, they also share similar approaches to very different lead characters; both are aloof and somewhat removed from the real world.

What's particularly interesting about Coriolanus is that we see how the character has become who he is - not through flashbacks but through dialogue. Via a number of exchanges we see how from youth, Coriolanus has been moulded by his mother Volumnia into a fierce warrior who is proud of his accomplishments. It's interesting that her push is also what leads to Coriolanus' fall from grace. She's the one that encourages him to run for public office which leads to his eventual banishment from Rome and into the arms of the Volscian army led by Tullus Aufidius, Coriolanus' blood enemy. It's almost as if she's running the show with her son as a puppet, dispensable if necessary to keep the family in the City's good graces (the look on her face after the signing of the peace accord certainly suggests as much).

It's interesting, and also a little disconcerting, that Coriolanus, a man feared and revered by those around him, would be brought to his knees by his mother. Coriolanus eventually rips at the seams and shows that he possess some degree of humanity and love by agreeing, at his mother's request, to peace with Rome. His show of mercy and humanity is vilified and shown as weak by being the direct cause of his death at the hands of Aufidius' army. I found it interesting that Coriolanus, rather than humanizing a military leader, shows that any sign of humanity is detrimental when it comes to war.

Fiennes is fierce as Coriolanus and he carries the intensity of the performance to the bitter end but when he agrees to peace, some of his strength disappears to the point where he physically seems to shrink; a fantastic performance. Though everyone manages quite well with the language, including Gerard Butler whose accent adds an unexpected strength to his performance, Vanessa Redgrave is particularly memorable as Volumnia. She's both doting and fierce and there's a sense that behind her warm exterior is a tiger whose path you don't want to cross.

Coriolanus isn't an easy sell. Not only does the language make it less accessible to the masses, the film itself doesn't shy away from the violence and terror of war, the hunger for revenge and the weakness of the human condition. There are some complicated themes at play, some of which are more successfully explored than others, but it's wonderful to see that Fiennes isn't afraid to tackle a difficult project which explores so many ideas. This is a notable first film from an actor who shows great promise behind the camera.

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