14 November 2011

SLIFF: Coriolanus

When it comes to Shakespeare, there is no equal. His plays have been adapted countless times since he wrote them. I am a huge fan of Shakespeare’s plays. During the summer, there is a program called “Shakespeare Festival” in Forest Park, where an acting troop puts on a stage production of a play. The Wife and I have attended the last two years, despite the heat and humidity. Earlier this year, Gnomeo & Juliet hit theaters, and I made sure to see that. I have dabbled in screenwriting, and have started work on an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. About three weeks into my work, I heard that Ralph Fiennes just finished directing and starring in a movie adaptation of a Shakespeare play. As it turns out, Voldemort made his directorial debut adapting the same play I was working on, Coriolanus.

Coriolanus tells the story of Caius Martius (Fiennes). He is a general in the Roman army, and a very good one at that. The people of Rome are mad at the Roman government for hording and rationing out the corn supply to the commoners and they blame Martius. In the meantime, the Volscian army, lead by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), prepares to attack Rome. When Martius learns of this attack, he leads his troops against the Volcians. They meet in the city of Corioles., where, Martius and Aufidius face each other again. Neither is killed, but the Romans win the battle.

Back in Rome, Martius’s mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) learn of his return and heroics. For this, Martius receives the surname Coriolanus. The people or Rome turn against Coriolanus, and he is banished. Coriolanus finds shelter with the Volscian army and Aufidius, where he leads them to victories over the Roman Army. This makes Coriolanus popular among the Volsces, and Aufidius begins to get jealous. As the Volscians make their way to Rome, many are sent to try and plead with Coriolanus to not attack Rome.

Coriolanus is a tragedy, but I will not tell you who lives and who dies. For that, you will have to see the movie, or read the play. This is the first cinematic adaptation of Coriolanus. The writer John Logan (Gladiator) chose to keep the Elizabethan English from the original play and to stick with the dialog from the original play. In place of omitted scenes and lines of dialog, Logan cleverly used news reports with headlines that told the missing parts. I thought this move was genius device. Scenes that are not in the play, but added in the movie had no dialog. This added a lot to the characters but did not violate the original text.

As for the directing, Fiennes really has some growing to do. He handled some scenes perfectly, while others fell flat. The score by Ilan Eskeri (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake) was decent, and helped set the mood when the direction faltered. The acting is where Coriolanus shines. Ralph Fiennes was great as Caius Martius Coriolanus, and had no problems with the Elizabethan English. Jessica Chastain shines again this year. She was also great in The Help earlier this year. Vanessa Redgrave puts in a powerful performance as Volumnia. I would not be surprised to see her pick up a Supporting Actress nomination. Brian Cox, who I would never have guessed, really owns his role, and does a phenomenal job. Then, there is Gerard Butler, who seems to be was chewing his lines. Nothing sounded natural from him. It just seemed that he was fighting to spit out most of his lines. It could be that he was just out performed, but he was the weakest link in this film.

I have not given up hope for my adaptation of Coriolanus, but Logan and Fiennes have set the bar high. I saw this at the St. Louis International Film Festival, but it will not be released until January 20. If you are a fan of Shakespeare or great acting, this is a must see. I cannot wait to have the opportunity to see it again. Hopefully, the second time I see it, I will not have an annoying old lady talking through the whole movie next to me. Who does that?

RATING 8.5/10

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