April 5, 2013


"Would you have me
False to my nature? Rather say I play
The man I am."

That is the quote that underlies this Shakespearean tragedy.  Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a celebrated Roman general who returns to his city after defending Rome from their rival the Volcians led by Aufidius (Gerard Butler).  He has been raised to be merciless and ruthless so that when a shortage of grain occurs, throwing the city into a state of chaos, he then suspends civil liberties which makes him despised by the very people he defended.  Having restored some form of order in the meantime, Coriolanus is also urged to run for consul in the Roman senate by his avid supporter Senator Menenius (Brian Cox).  Further encouraging him in this endeavor are his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain).  Coriolanus is now thrown into a personal conflict on whether to stay true to himself or play politics and try to gain the affection of the very people who now dislike him.  Menenius persuades him to ask for their support so he concedes begrudgingly.  He may defend Rome but he has no desire to listen to their concerns.  His chief critic, Sicinius (James Nesbitt) manages to goad the population to see him as a tyrant and reject him.  The people turn against Coriolanus, revolt and consequently banishes him into exile.  Betrayed and furious at the audacity of the Romans, Coriolanus aligns with his rival Aufidius to take revenge against his own city.

Ralph Fiennes is, as always, excellent and very intense as Coriolanus.  There were even some scenes where I'd feel that he was going to turn into Voldemort (yes sorry I couldn't help it).  But what was wonderful was the confrontation scene with his family towards the end when one sees a fearless general turn back into a boy in front of his formidable mother, Volumnia.  Vanessa Redgrave is both elegant and imposing as a mother who has raised her child as a soldier.  It is thrilling to see her spar with Fiennes in this movie.  And yet she is all gentle and supporting when during her scenes with her daughter-in-law, Virgilia.  Though her role as a supportive and fragile wife doesn't give her too much to do, Jessica Chastain plays her with great vulnerability and she very much holds her own in her scenes with Mr. Fiennes and Ms. Redgrave.  Having just seen her in Zero Dark Thirty, it's delightful to hear her utter Shakespeare so naturally like the words just poured out of her.  There is an aura of grace in the way she speaks Shakespeare's words as if she was born to talk that way. 

Mr. Fiennes not only stars in this film but also directs it.  Together with writer John Logan, he has set Coriolanus in modern times with reminders of the Occupy movement, election politics and campaigning as well as urban warfare. It is surprisingly relevant and to think the play was written ages ago!  I was actually delaying watching this film because I thought that I might have trouble with the language but after 5 minutes of the film, I was captured.  Shakespeare is really meant to be heard in dialogue and seen in performance instead of read in text.  So go for it and see this (it's on Netflix streaming) for it might surprise you!


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