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Modern Warfare + Shakespeare = Coriolanus
After targeting concentration camp inmates and a boy wizard in some of his darkest acting roles, Ralph Fiennes sets his sights on a lesser known Shakespearean tragedy for his film directing debut. As well as calling the shots, Fiennes takes the lead role of Caius Martius Coriolanus. Amidst riots in his home, the general of 'A Place Calling Itself Rome' leads his army against the Volscians and their leader, Coriolanus' sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). After a successful battle but failing to kill his nemesis, Coriolanus returns home to great praise and his loving family. His mother (a breathtaking performance from Vanessa Redgrave) encourages him to run for consul and despite briefly winning the support of the Roman Senate and the commoners, a pair of scheming senators bring about the general's downfall as he rails against the idea of the rule of the people. Coriolanus is banished but joins forces with the Volscians and with the help of his old enemy Aufidius decides to bring ruin to his former city and its people. The only folks who can stop him are his family and old friend Menenius, a standout performance from the ever reliable Brian Cox. With a cameo from Channel Four's news anchor Jon Snow and the use of what could easily be actual footage from war zones, the contemporary relevance of Shakespeare's tragedy is easy to digest.
Fiennes has done well to translate Coriolanus from the stage to the screen and he hasn't stretched it too far so as to alienate it from the original text. Stylistically, the film is quite gritty. The focus is mostly on the actors, their eyes, their expressions and their delivering of lines, but there are a few purely cinematic moments (fight scenes in particular) which justify the adaptation to the screen. There are a couple of truly violent moments in the film which blast the cobwebs off the old play and hook the modern, desensitized audience into the story.
Coriolanus is a tense and violent political wartime thriller which makes Shakespeare not only accessible but utterly captivating. A credible directorial debut from one of the industry's finest working actors.
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