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Centretown News Online
Friday, February 17, 2021
Film Review: Coriolanus
Monday, 23 January 2021
By Corcoran Conn-Grant
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Published in : Centretown News, Our Critics

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In a present-day city “calling itself Rome,” the man of the hour is Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), newly christened Coriolanus for routing the Romans’ Volscian enemies from their stronghold in nearby Corioles.

Coriolanus is a daunting warrior and unquestionable leader – evoking Brando as Colonel Kurtz in sheer presence as well as in effect on those around him – every inch the son of his imposing mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), who favours him to become consul under the guidance of his handler and mentor, Menenius (Brian Cox).

But Coriolanus has image problems, to say the least.

Defined by unbridled contempt as much as by the singularity that made him a hero of Rome – solitarily battling Volsces right up the chain of command to a confrontation with his arch-nemesis, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) – he has his work cut out for him gaining the support of the populace.

When hungry plebeians riot in the streets – a scene that opens the film – he scatters them singlehandedly, quashing the protest with words alone, deriding the participants as “scabs,” “curs,” “fragments.”



 Directed by Ralph Fiennes.

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain

His own wife (Jessica Chastain) and son see him as a general first and foremost, to Volumnia’s undoubted satisfaction. And even to the soldiers who live and fight and die around him, Coriolanus is a savage enigma; when he offers himself to them, it is neither as kin nor as friend, but as a weapon (“Make you a sword of me!” he exhorts).

Finally, a pair of tribunes (James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson) turn the people against Coriolanus, publicly shaming him and, for railing in an unfortunate but all too characteristic moment of blind fury against the concept of popular rule, going so far as to banish him from Rome.

In exile, Coriolanus has no refuge remaining to him except the Volscian army and Tullus Aufidius, with whom he sets out to throw in his lot and ally against the city which spurned him.

If conflict is the stuff of drama, consider Coriolanus stuffed. Bursts of gunfire punctuate the combat scenes and no sooner are guns holstered than the knives come out, metaphorically or otherwise.

This being the work of the Bard, some of the sharpest weapons are tongues, and Fiennes could have selected no better ensemble than this mostly British, mostly well-known cast to make the poetic hostility of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus sincere but accessible to moviegoers.

The adaption by John Logan largely preserves Shakespearean dialogue, though without any cutesy anachronisms such as the “swords” (guns) of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

The combat footage owes its visceral impact to a number of Fiennes’s fellow Hurt Locker alumni, including sound mixer Ray Beckett and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, who make perfect, generic war zones of Belgrade’s back streets.

But the real hero of Coriolanus, outside the film as well as within it, is Fiennes himself, whose directorial debut this is and whose ferocious talent can be felt every bit as much as that of his alter ego, the seething protagonist whom Fiennes played previously on stage in London.

The pacing could be more even, the overall length (despite omitting sections of the play) could be trimmer and Coriolanus repeatedly goes overboard in its depiction of a vacillating and easily manipulable populace led – as much as a rabble can be without becoming something else – by Tamora (Lubna Azabal) and Cassius (Ashraf Barhom) in what seems a bit of pointedly racial casting, though nothing is made of it in the end.

But these are quibbles in the face of assured storytelling and massed talent. Coriolanus is the same study in politics, personality, force of will, betrayal, and tragedy that it was 400 years ago. Consider its updating successful.

Last update : 23-01-2021 11:32

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February 17, 2021

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Rediscover Centretown's streets and landmarks and learn about the history behind their names. Researched and written by Centretown News reporters, this feature also showcases both contemporary and historical images.

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