Power corrupts man. It is an age-old tale. Perhaps power also corrupts filmmakers to adapt classic plays in a similar corrupting effect. Placed in the director’s chair, as well as on the main stage, Ralph Fiennes sheds new contemporary light to the classic Shakespeare play Coriolanus.
Proclaimed a war hero, Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is an extremely divisive figure to those around him. Ruling over poverty stricken Rome, the public revolt and riot against his decisions. At home, his timid wife (Jessica Chastain) is rather terrified of him, and his excessively overzealous mother (Vanessa Redgrave, slightly channeling Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate) has other sinister plans. Besmirched by his followers and compatriots alike, Coriolanus is banished from Rome and then teams up with Tullus Audifius (Gerard Butler), whom he was in battle with as the film began.
Shot in Serbia and Montenegro, the terrain looks bleak and closer in appearance to the Gulf War than to the architecturally rich Rome. The contemporary setting proves beyond effective, with the recent riots in England, the political uprisings in Egypt and Libya, and the “Occupy” movements being of timely assembly.
Director and star Ralph Fiennes (aka the man of the moment) manages to scream his way through the film, casting nuance aside for loud and showy. That being said, he is still pretty damn good and possesses a stronger presence than in his counterpart with Butler. His direction is fine, especially in the haphazard combat scenes, but the film loses direction in the second act and becomes rather aimless.
Redgrave is the standout as Volumnia, delivering a captivating performance. As per usual, it is hard to keep one’s eyes away from the actress whose flawless decisions deliver one brilliant performance after another, no matter how few lines she has.
Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan avoided a more subtle and tacit approach to Coriolanus. The emotional disintegration and rebuilding of a man is shrouded by thunderous bellows, and misses the potential for a richer and deeper connection, in favour of ostentation.
Beginning with a news style expository set up, fast paced movement eventually becomes much slower and loses the initially exciting momentum. Thankfully, able actors such as Fiennes and Redgrave tackle the language like the seasoned pros that they are, and the barriers of the original language Shakespearian language vanish without a trace.
Coriolanus opens theatrically in Australia on February 23, 2012 through Icon Films.