So Gerrrraaaarrrrd Buttttllller (actual pronunciation) has a good role again. Shakespeare’s prose has been brought to the screen in the fullness of its poetic majesty / imponderability. Ralph Fiennes does being really mean and bad really very well (again) and Jon Snow makes his cinematic debut! Ladies and Gentleman I give you Shakespeare’s Coriolanus as Ralph Fiennes very own directorial debut.
It is probably safe to say it’s not one of the Bard’s most well known works. Fiennes is Coriolanus, the Roman general who despises the people of the city he protects. After victory against the rebels (always with the rebels) led by Tullus Aufidius (Butler) he finds himself courted for high political office and now must at least feign respect for the very people he cannot stand. This doesn’t quite go to plan and he is banished from the city by a scheming senate worried about his temperament for political office. Cue sworn revenge and some side-switching. Gerard Butler can hardly believe his luck.
You can practically see the glee with which British acting heavyweights Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave and Fiennes inhabit their roles, ravishing the lines, the fluid words, the high drama and tragedy of it all. Cox in particular practically bounces around the screen as Menenius the elegant, dapper and effusive Roman Senator. Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia is also terrific and it is safe to say that Gerard Butler as Tullus Aufidius – Commander of the Volcians – has easily his best role in quite some time.
The setting is contemporary, John Logan, the screenwriter behind The Aviator and Gladiator, wrote the script. He has done a good job. The Shakespearian language is heady at times but not totally impregnable, for the most part complementing the action rather than isolating it. The imagined parallel universe of unwieldy Provinces rebelling against Rome manifests itself as a kind of violent leftist “Occupy” coterie –some neat present day paralleling (without the machine-gun pitched battles) you might say.
There are meaty fight scenes and a good mix of action and intrigue to keep the pace up for the most part. A couple of long passages of dialogue take the wind out towards the end and the Jon Snow twenty-four hour news inserts could have been excised. They only serve to take the viewer from a carefully honed world and seem quite tacky compared to the seriousness of the action. That and Snow being quite terrible in his cameo role. But Fiennes as the General is never less than compelling. By the end, he even manages to extract sympathy from a most anti of anti-heroes. And seeing as he’s double-jobbing first-timer and all, we’d have to give him plenty of credit for it. Recommended.