Direction: Ralph Fiennes
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave
Rating: ***1/2 A bold, often bloody reinterpretation of one of Shakespeare’s relatively neglected plays, Coriolanus, marks the directing debut of Ralph Fiennes. Retaining the Bard’s dense verbosity, the film resonates particularly well for contemporary times.
The action is shifted from the original setting of ancient Rome to a fictional present-day city “calling itself Rome”. The parallels with recent international hostilities are underscored by the gritty, handheld camerawork and the 24×7 television coverage of the skirmishes. Tellingly, the film was shot at locations in and around Belgrade.
Skillfully appropriating the source text, Fiennes and scriptwriter John Logan lead the viewer on an odyssey to discover the complexities of the central character.
The titular general (portrayed by the director himself) is pushed by his patriotic mother (Vanessa Redgrave) to seek public office. He fails to get elected consul, is branded a traitor and banished from Rome.
Next: the recklessly aggressive warrior seeks the help of his former enemy (Gerard Butler) to launch an assault on the very city he’s spent his life defending. Inexorably, the plot winds down in a final act that is as terrifying as it is tragic.
The tensions of the turbulent times, including the visceral combat scenes, are convincingly depicted. On the downside, the tempo does tend to slacken at times. Also, at nearly two hours, the film is a tad lengthy.
Heading a predominantly British cast Ralph Fiennes who previously played the role on the London stage, belts out a mesmeric performance. Oscar-winning veteran Vanessa Redgrave is equally eloquent, delivering her lines with absolute clarity.
Indeed, the triumph of Coriolanus is that it makes Shakespeare accessible to 21st century audiences.