December 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm #45396
Did you know that Jessica Chastain was in this as well?
Anyway, Betsy Sharkey/LA Times sounds like she’s going to vote for Brian Cox for best actor
‘Coriolanus’ review: Ralph Fiennes directs Shakespeare update
Ralph Fiennes directs, stars in the Shakespeare update
‘Coriolanus.’ Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Brian
By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
December 2, 2011
Actor, and now director, Ralph Fiennes has given us war and
politics on a grand operatic scale in his ambitious and at times
thrilling rendering of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works —
For his first foray behind the camera, Fiennes has started off right by
surrounding himself with a superlative cast including Vanessa Redgrave,
Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain and an exceptional Brian Cox. He has
taken the title role for himself, Caius Martius Coriolanus, in the story
of a war hero wading into the political arena only to be undone by his
In a far riskier move, the director, working with screenwriter John
Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Aviator”), has chosen to stay with the syntax
of the play while updating the rest of the production, which is both the
charm and the challenge of “Coriolanus.” But if you give yourself over
to that clash of style and sensibility, something magical happens as the
power, the prescience and the precision of Shakespeare’s words take
hold of modern problems.
The original “Coriolanus” layered on an abundance of conflicts for
Martius to grapple with. Even with Logan’s surgical streamlining of the
play, more than enough remains. There are the great expectations of an
autocratic mother, Volumnia (Redgrave), coupled with pressure from his
ambitious political ally, Menenius (Cox). There is his sworn enemy,
guerrilla fighter Tullus (Butler), who is both nemesis and savior. And
testing his patience at every turn is the constituency of ordinary
citizens that Martius disdains.
As we follow the rise and fall of a great man, those troubles fade in
the face of his own demons — pride, arrogance, righteousness, surety —
which Fiennes brings to scorching life on-screen, spitting out his rage
with such force the words seem likely to damage literally as well as
Originally set in ancient Rome, the filmmakers have kept the city name
but time-shifted ahead to a place that looks like any number of 21st
century war-ravaged Eastern European countries (Serbia provided the
shooting location). Images and news updates flicker on TV screens.
Soldiers wear fatigues, drive tanks, carry machine guns. Tribunes wear
suits and ties, for their endless (pointless) debates. And everywhere
there is unrest.
On a distant front there is urban warfare — streets filled with burning
cars, the rapid blasts of machine gun fire, the search for Tullus’ rebel
forces, with some fine hand-held camera work keeping it intensely real.
Back in Rome, a grain shortage has driven the locals to the streets
with Belgian actress Lubna Azabal, so memorable in “Incendies,” the
defining face of the angry crowd. Meanwhile, Martius’ hero’s welcome and
the quick political ascent that it was supposed to accord him have
evaporated in the face of the discontent. Suddenly he’s engaged in a war
of words, a fight he’s ill-equipped to handle.
Loss of public confidence, damaged career, redemption as a bitter pill —
all of these very contemporary issues are pared down to their essence
by making prime choices of Shakespeare’s verse, then staged with a
gritty vigor that keeps pulling you in. The protests have an Occupy Wall
Street-or-L.A.-or-wherever feel. The military skirmishes are made
absolutely riveting between the inventive choreography of the action and
director of photography Barry Ackroyd’s (Oscar nominated for a similar
war effort, 2009’s “The Hurt Locker”) ability to capture the bombed-out
grace found in the rubble that remains.
That grace extends to the way in which the actors embrace the angst of
“Coriolanus” as well. Redgrave plays a mother obsessed with duty to
country and family with a quietly damning dignity. Watching her bend the
rigid Martius, by bending her knee without bowing to his will, is at
once chilling and moving.
Chastain, who has had such a remarkable year already, one that has
included a comical blond in “The Help” and mothers variously tested in
“Take Shelter” and “The Tree of Life,” is pure sunshine here as Martius’
devoted wife Virgilia. The actress invests the language with such a
lyrical lightness, it’s as if she grew up quoting Shakespeare over
breakfast. Meanwhile, Butler is a nice surprise, handling the nuances of
his rebel fighter as well as the knife he favors for fighting. It ranks
as one of his most affecting performances to date.
But “Coriolanus” belongs to Cox. The veteran character actor (“Troy,”
“Braveheart,” Bournes “Identity” and “Supremacy,” and so on) steals the
show as the wily politician Menenius. It is delicious to watch him
coaxing and cajoling with the slick finesse of a D.C. lobbyist. Saying
volumes with the arch of a brow and the tilt of his head, using a
mirthless laugh for punctuation, Cox is the grease that keeps the wheels
of this complicated narrative moving along.
The pot is kept at a boil pretty much throughout, a level of intensity
that at times can be wearing. But Fiennes ultimately knows to play to
Shakespeare’s greatest strength, that incisive understanding of all the
ways that humans so tragically, and predictably, repeat mistakes. In
doing so, he has taken “Coriolanus” from little known to virtually
unforgettable.December 1, 2011 at 5:27 pm #45398This post was found to be inappropriate by the moderators and has been removed.December 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm #45399
NYTimes – focuses more on Fiennes’ performance, little mention of Redgrave
By Mekado Murphy
Ralph Fiennes Discusses ‘Coriolanus’:
Ralph Fiennes, the director and star of “Coriolanus,” talks about adapting Shakespeare’s play for the screen.
As soon as a thrilling Ralph Fiennes appears on “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?”
More About This Movie
Movies: A First Plunge Into Directing Is Hardly Routine
(November 27, 2011)
Larry D. Horricks/Weinstein Company
Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain in “Coriolanus,” directed by Mr. Fiennes.
Larry D. Horricks/Weinstein Company
Ralph Fiennes as the title character in his modern version of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Coriolanus.”
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, if 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
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.”December 1, 2011 at 6:09 pm #45400
BI – I’d give Chastain a pass.
She made Tree of Life maybe three years ago, Take Shelter probably early 2010, Coriolanus summer 2010, and Help after that – it was the delay in getting Tree of Life released that made it come up to three.December 1, 2011 at 6:16 pm #45401
Chastain was also in The Debt. I know it flopped, but she got praise for that film as well this year.December 1, 2011 at 7:31 pm #45402
Well, I am glad somebody is finally talking about some other possible BP contenders. You have this wonderful outlet to express and explore, but you end up marching in lockstep over the same four or five movies. BORING
BTW, ef Jessica Chastain–what about luscious Gerard Butler?! And in no less than a homoerotic role opposite Ralph Fiennes!
Or Vanessa Redgrave, whose performance has been described as her best in years!December 1, 2011 at 9:35 pm #45403
IMDB says 7 released this year:
She was superb in The Tree of Life, though there was not much depth and she could not bring much more to her character. Unlikely that I will make the effort to see Take Shelter. The trailer doesn’t show that she has much to do. The Help comes out on dvd next week.
Would very much like to see Redgrave’s performance as some have raved about it; so I can then compare Redgrave’s with Chastain’s achievements this year.
BI – I’d give Chastain a pass.
She made Tree of Life maybe three years ago, Take Shelter probably early 2010, Coriolanus summer 2010, and Help after that – it was the delay in getting Tree of Life released that made it come up to three.December 2, 2011 at 8:37 am #45404
Yes, I knew that Chastain was in this.
The role of Menenius Agrippa is decidedly a supporting one (though a large one), unless Logan did some serious rewriting. Maybe Sharkey votes for Brian Cox as supporting actor?December 2, 2011 at 8:42 am #45405
I guess I was just taking the emphasis on him as sounding like he dominated the film as though he was the lead.
This will be the first time I’ve encountered this lesser-performed Shakespearean play. That’s for the amplification.December 2, 2011 at 9:05 am #45406
IMDB says 7 released this year:
The Debt is actually a 2010 film (that’s when it premiered in Toronto) then released this year in the US.
Wilde Salome is a 2011 film (this Al Pacino directed film premiered disastorously in Venice; it likely won’t be released theatrically and rather go straight to DVD next year). So anyway it comes to 6 – a huge amount – initially shown anywhere or alternatively released in the US. Texas Killing Fields did have a small release a couple months ago.
That’s a lot – but actors of much greater fame than Chastain have movies they make regularly that most people never hear of. Jeff Bridges had four films in 2009 – besides Crazy Heart and The Man Who Stared at Goats, he also had The Open Road and A Dog Year. Jesse Eisenberg had Camp Hell and Holy Rollers in 2010. The films Colin Firth made right before and after The King’s Speech – St Trinian’s 2: The Legends of Fritton’s Gold and Main Street – were not released in the US (nor have a majority of his films made over the last several years).
Chastain has to be credited with not only being in a lot of movies, but mainly ones that are getting attention.December 2, 2011 at 9:05 am #45407
Ralph Fiennes plays the (lead) title role – all the other characters revolve around him. Cox plays his best friend, Redgrave his mother, Butler his enemy and Chastain his wife…December 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm #45408
Cox is terrific in this, but the supporting actor race is probably too crowded for any traction. But Redgrave. I was waiting for something throughout the film and was disappointed that I hadn’t seen anything Oscar-worthy. Until her final showdown with Fiennes. Yipes. She’s definitely in my Top 5 supporting and I think has a decent chance to win.December 4, 2011 at 6:46 am #45409
I can’t wait until this opens in my city. Mainly so I can see my Redgrave do what she does best. heheheheDecember 4, 2011 at 9:24 am #45410
Apart from its current one week exclusives in NY/LA, this is not scheduled to be seen anywhere publicly in the US until January 20 (limited), and then, assuming a Redgrave nomination, broadening but still limited in the weeks after.
So basically, for most of us, it’s going to be a case of guessing blind as to whether she’ll be nominated or win the GG if she is nominated there (they are held before this opens).
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