Thursday, February 9, 2012

Coriolanus

To get the most important question out of the way, yes, it rhymes with "anus".

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, and Ralph Fiennes has chosen to remind you bitches that he's not just a noseless necromancer. Nay, Mr. Fiennes has chosen for his directorial debut to give you not just a master class in acting but a how-to-deal-with-Shakespeare for the 21st century.

The story is that Caius Martius (Coriolanus) is a great general who has saved Rome repeatedly from its numerous enemies. His ambitious mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), has seen to his ascendancy to the Roman consul, while the timid, faithful Virgilia (Jessica Chastain, looking a little overpowered) just wants her husband home safe.

The thing is, Coriolanus is a great general. He's not a political animal at all. Rising to the senate requires kissing the ass of the people, and if there's anything he holds in greater contempt than the senate, it's the people.

Pride is his sin, but he is definitely a giant among trivial sycophants and a pathetic rabble.

I feel like I should dislike him, but I can't. He's a magnificent animal who finds himself trapped and tortured by the machinations of Brutus and Sicinius, whose main concern is keeping their own jobs. There are two among the people, Tamora and Cassius, who are creating trouble, too, and between them they manage to get Coriolanus transformed from the Consul to an exiled traitor.

Coriolanus finds his revenge by allying with his martial nemesis, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) in a joint effort to sack Rome.

Whoa.

Shouldn't've pissed him off, dudes. Brian Cox rounds out the cast as Menenius, the guy who gets Corioalnus and tries to mentor him through the difficult Consul approval process, and to get him to turn away when he's at the gates of Rome.

Coriolanus is not one of your chatty Shakesperean heroes. He does not monologue. He's a man of action. And Fiennes has cleverly opted for putting the action in a modern day setting. It's Rome, Antium, and the city-states of yore, but with a CNN-like news channel, modern weaponry, and so on. There's a nice touch that the rabble-rousing plebes look like communist revolutionaries, and during the uprising at the grain depot—the Boy spotted this—the riot police, with their shields, strongly evoked Roman legionaries.

This is a bold choice and some people aren't gonna like it. I consider them wrong, tasteless, stupid, and of likely dubious parentage.

The actions makes no sense from a literal standpoint. To care about that is to completely miss the point. Aufidius and Coriolanus have to be locked in physical, mortal battle. Coriolanus has to take the city practically single-handed. It's great drama, and it's signaled well by the fact that even though things look modern, the language is still Middle English.

It's also kind of awesome that the update includes a more colorful cast than might have been found in 1610 England. As a result we get Shakespeare spoken with a variety of accents, include Gerard Butler's thick Scottish brogue.

It's just a bold drama done boldly. It's going to be a little hard to parse the language, if you don't have your Shakespeare ears on—no subtitles—but it gets easier as the movie goes on, of course. And it's so worth it. At least it was for me; I was laughing more than the other people in the audience.

The Boy was impressed. At first he indicated a strong, general approval, but over the next few hours and days, it constantly rose in his esteem.

It won't get much attention, relative to its quality: It's too martial. This is a story of how society grinds up its great people, ultimately destroying itself in the process.

Great stuff. Check it out, you cretin.

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