Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus

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John F
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Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus

Post by John F » Fri Dec 02, 2011 2:42 am

This is one movie I might actually go see. "Coriolanus" is one of Shakespeare's most challenging plays, from the story it tells and its point of view to the language, which is often knotty in Shakespeare's late manner. It's been radically tightened up - the normal playing time of three hours reduced to two - and I don't know whether the language has been edited for easier understanding. But the title role is a brilliant opportunity for a great Shakespearean actor, which Fiennes has previouosly shown himself to be in the theatre, and from this review, he seizes it big time.

Before the review, a crucial speech of Coriolanus's, which by itself would attract any actor to the role. He has been banished from Rome by the common people he despises, who have been manipulated by opportunistic politicians, and these are his parting words to them:

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders; till at length
Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,
Making not reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes, deliver you as most
Abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising,
For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere.

December 1, 2011
He’s the Hero of the People, and He Hates It

As soon as a thrilling Ralph Fiennes appears in “Coriolanus,” it’s clear why he chose this lesser-known Shakespeare tragedy for his directing debut. Dressed in camouflage fatigues, Mr. Fiennes — as the mythic Roman military hero first known as Caius Martius and later Coriolanus — enters a raucous scene and commands it with just a glare. What power! The city’s hungry, rioting citizens, some carrying protest signs and one holding a camera phone, have descended, demanding food. Martius charges at them and then lets loose the contempt that will aid in his downfall: “What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues, that, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion, make yourselves scabs?”

The voice is soft but insistent, the rage thunderous and the backdrop — war, famine, civil unrest — as familiar as the news. Like John Osborne’s 1970s version of the play, titled “A Place Calling Itself Rome” (which Mr. Fiennes gestures at early on), this is Shakespeare’s 17th-century tragedy as contemporary military story, one that invokes Iraq and other modern theaters of war. And it works, partly because while the language remains Shakespeare’s, the rule of the mob, the political hypocrisies and the grinding of war’s engine transcend any age. Then too there’s the sheer pleasure of hearing these words spoken by an actor like Mr. Fiennes, whose phrasing is so brilliant, you might be tempted to close your eyes if his physical performance weren’t equally mesmerizing.

This adaptation, by John Logan, condenses and dispenses with sections of the original tragedy, one of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, coming in at a tight 122 minutes. At the story’s center are two violent twinned relationships, the first between Martius and the Roman citizens he despises (they “like nor peace nor war”), the second between Martius and his Volscian enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), whom Martius openly admires: “I sin in envying his nobility.” Martius protects the citizens who are unlike him and fights the man who is most like him, the dangers of his attitude toward each suggested by the calls for his murder that bookend the play. This is part of his tragedy, as are the pride and disdain that lead him from the hero’s role to the monster’s.

Not long after the citizens storm the streets, Martius heads out to fight the Volscians. The possible scent of her son’s newly spilled blood sends Martius’ patriotic mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), into raptures. Blood, she enthuses to Martius’ stunned wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), “more becomes a man than gilt his trophy.”

It certainly becomes Mr. Fiennes’s fierce interpretation of Martius, his eyes shining in a face streaked in blood. Having created one brilliant villain with Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, Mr. Fiennes, his head shaved, summons up another by visually evoking the iconography of Marlon Brando’s in “Apocalypse Now.” Later the character puts on a white shirt and suspenders, suggesting that the great Roman conqueror is nothing more than a common skinhead.

Martius’ destiny turns — brutally, suddenly. After routing the Volscians, though failing to kill Aufidius, Martius returns to Rome, where he is given the title of Coriolanus for his victory at a city he had taken. The honor comes with a price: he’s forced to play the people’s politician, a role for which he’s disastrously equipped. Done in by pride and by two scheming tribunes, Brutus (James Nesbitt) and Sicinius (Paul Jesson), Coriolanus falls from power, despite the advice of his mother and his friend, Menenius (Brian Cox). Another she-wolf of Rome, Volumnia has kept count of Coriolanus’s wounds (she’d happily lick them), nurturing his fame. But she’s done her job too well. Her son has become a war machine that, enraged at Rome, now turns against it, joining with the Volscians.

Mr. Fiennes has made smart choices here, notably by surrounding himself with a strong secondary cast (the smaller roles are less successfully played), and by hiring the cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. Mr. Ackroyd, who shot “The Hurt Locker,” gives “Coriolanus” a visual density that complements the bright opulence of Martius’ mansion yet can pick faces out of the fog of war and the darkest shadows. (The sound mixer, Ray Beckett, also worked on “The Hurt Locker,” in which Mr. Fiennes had a small role.) Together they bring this world alive, closing the centuries-long distance between the writing of the play and this interpretation. The language lives, as do the people, who are present enough that it’s almost a surprise no one brandishes that timely protest sign, “Occupy Rome.”

http://movies.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/mo ... eview.html
John Francis

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Re: Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Dec 02, 2011 4:31 pm

I'll be looking for it at the Regal Cinema at Aviation Mall in Queensbury. OK I'll go as far as Saratoga. All right, face it, it's Netflix in a year's time again. By which time maybe I'll have read the play again so as to be aware of "edited" language (horror!).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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