Coriolanus: Shakespeare, revisited

Jan 21, 2012, 08:21 IST | Johnson Thomas
U/A; Drama
Dir: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Gerard  Butler, Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastian,
Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, James  Nesbitt, Ashraf Barhom, Lubna Azabal, Dragan Micanovic

Directed by Ralph Fiennes and based on one of the lesser known plays by William Shakespeare, Coriolanus the film, is a realistically rendered modern day tale set in war-torn Belgrade, Serbia 'a place calling itself Rome.'

The chancy setting itself renders high drama with its conflict-ridden ruins and rampant military action. The Bard's beautiful language is juxtaposed amidst macho arrogance.

A cannily orchestrated volley of bullets doesn't actually work but it's an interesting enough set-up. What follows via a dramatic volley of punchy dialogues rendered with the fullest magnificence by the extremely talented and versatile cast, is an interesting and visually intoxicating experience.

The plum central role, Gen Caius Martius Coriolanus is essayed by the director himself, Ralph Fiennes, nearly a decade after the one he rendered on stage. Coriolanus is arrogant, proud, scathing of the public and a great war hero for the country torn by strive. He

is viciously scarred, sports a shaven head and fears no one. Not even his greatest enemy Aufidius(a commanding Gerard Butler), commander of the guerrilla-like Volluscian army that is constantly devising moves to pull down Rome(read Belgrade).

Coriolanus' biggest strength is his mother's unflinching adoration of his ideals. Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave)'s belief in her son's ability to rise to the very top stirs his desire to reach the highest position in his country.
But because of his inability to bow down to the people's wishes, a sudden burst of anger on his part and with some conniving by consular officials (James Nesbitt And Paul Jesson), Coriolanus finds himself banished from Rome.

This challenging first half exposition and set-up is aided by some prime-time news TV footage which keys in the vital details of the political maneuvers and conflicts within and from outside the city.

The plot becomes easier to read once the two allies begin their march towards Rome. After Menenius' failure to get Corialanus to see reason, Volumnia and Virgilia (Jessica Chastian), Coriolanus' wife, alongside his son, step in to appeal to the unbending hero. The pulsating drama that unfolds amidst the barrage of prideful verse is a sight to behold.

The final confrontation between Volumnia and Coriolanus is in fact the highlight of the film. Both Dame Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Fiennes come out with all guns blazing to imprint their considerable skills on the characters they essay so beautifully.

Jessica Chastian as the wife who has to live in the shadow of the hero and his commanding mother gives a splendid turn. Gerard Butler has a commanding presence and is adequate enough but not quite in the Shakespeare mold.
Fiennes tries to keep make the challenge of deciphering Shakespeare an easy one and he succeeds up to a point. The dramatic conflicts, the warn-torn imagery, the TV footage highlighting crucial events, are all top-notch.

Despite John Logan's effort to cut short the elongated verses from the original, there still appears a disconnect. If you are not on high alert, it's going to be tough to be in the thick of things as Fiennes orchestrates it.
Nevertheless, if you are game for a new experience, this one is worth a try!

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