Coriolanus Review 11/8/11
While having dinner after watching Coriolanus at the AFI Film Fest last night, I started thinking about what I would write in a review of the movie. I have to say that I enjoyed it. It was a very intense, well acted debut for Ralph Fiennes directorial talents. Of course the festival viewers, more serious movie goers than your average audience, was very appreciative and you could hear a pin drop during the presentation, so engrossed was the audience. With Fiennes and several of the producers present, the movie got a great deal of applause at its conclusion.
As I sat over dinner, cradling my glass of wine, as it sometimes does, my mind was going in all different directions, but it kept coming back to one thought about this particular Shakespeare classic and that was that Coriolanus was a very dour, unlikeable fellow. The message that political intrigue and the mob mentality, aided by questionable rhetoric, is still alive and well in the present day makes it very relevant, and although the Shakespearean did not detract from either the understanding or the ongoing narrative of the whole movie for me, I found the first half of the movie a little overcrowded with words. I guess that is part and parcel of loving Shakespeare and the fact there was so much to get out there to tell the story.
First of all... I love words and language, particularly if it is literate and even when it is not, descriptive and addressing the point. But even more than I love words, I am in love with the messages that flow from one human to the other, sometimes with little or no words. I am in love with the language of the eyes, the words that are unspoken, but just as surely the delivery of the message from the soul, aided by the body language of the speaker and acknowledged by the recipient. It is like an electrical current that flows between two points. And there it is, the crux of the matter as to why I found the first part of the movie so full and tried to say so much with so many words.
Fiennes is in love with words, yet he conveys so much without them sometimes and the message is so much more eloquent in those instances. While watching him in the beginning of the movie, I kept thinking his face would break from so much anger and disdain. The curl of the lip (really a lifting of the left side) was almost enough to signal the contempt he felt for the people and how separate from them all he was, the only language that he understood was the language of the warrior...understanding his weapons, his almost blind, foolish courage to press on when lesser (or maybe wiser) men would not. Such is the stuff that heroes are made, their glories there for us to see in history. But this was a man who understood not subtlety nor compromise....not of principles, but of the necessities of governing or even consolidating power. He had his mother to thank for it, yet she was allowed the weapon that he was not, that which men are taught to suppress...their tears, especially the ones that cleanse the soul of their burdens. Volumnia was the master at being all things, yet every bit as proud as her son, her hubris softened by her femininity and her tears, but no less lethal in dealing with an enemy.
Lacking these subtleties that is where Coriolanus could really only understand his enemy Tullus Aufidius, another powerful warrior, no less fierce, but who represented a more temperate disposition and carried the love/admiration of his people and his men and perhaps understood some of the subtleties.
The second part of the movie, where Fiennes and his actors rely more on what appears on their faces and the words imparted by the silences of others, the movie "sang" for me. With such a nice face and lovely eyes, Fiennes almost makes Coriolanus likeable here and in the end, if even more scary by his "lack" of emotion once he has decided to surrender to Aufidius. Yet it is the very dedication into which he throws himself that he becomes the admiration of Aufidius' own men, some who seek to emmulate him and, he, them, an exchange that makes him appear even more the animal that he can be.
The homoerotic essence of the scene where the male (Coriolanus) who surrenders is, in essence, surrendered to... in an exchange of words and embraces that signal both of them understand the act and what it means...that each recognizes a strength that equals their own, is one I've always been fascinated by and explored in one of my writings. I find it curious that Fiennes gave wings to the thoughts as Shakespeare probably intended them. The recognition, by both, of what the symbolic act represented... was electrifying...and that current I spoke of was flowing here (as it was in the knife fight) between the two actors, the words aiding them in the scene.
The performances in the movie were excellent all around. While I found Coriolanus character too verbose in the beginning, he was as Shakespeare created him, so I can't fault Fiennes for what I felt was an over the top delivery. As he mellows down in the second part of the movie, I found him superb.
Vanessa Redgrave's Volumnia was every bit her son's equal in her ferociousness, except her delivery was softened by her gender. Her performance was also superb, though I felt she was matched by the very excellent and oh so natural, Brian Cox. If I had to pick a favorite performance here, it would be Cox's Menenius. Funny that so many reviews don't even mention him. I suppose I always find the most manly of men so poignant when they are vulnerable or find themselves defeated and for me Cox falls on his sword with great panache.
Jessica Chastain and James Nesbitt in their respective roles, turn in very credible performances that add to the whole of this production.
As for the Gerard Butler, who many considered to be the weakest link going in, he turned in a damned good performance. I have to say that he was a natural for Aufidius and I think he surprised many people by how easy he fit into this casting. As a matter of fact, I think for many, his name and face on the poster will bring in an audience for this movie that may not have given it second look. I also think that his scenes with Ralph Fiennes are among the most intriguing. If Fiennes scenes with Volumnia were electric because of the dynamic between mother and son created by the playwright and performed with great skill by the actors, his scenes with Aufidius provided the audience with a "meat and potatoes" kind of satisfaction needed to make this production interesting. The testosterone that emanates from the two is so thick you could cut it with a knife, and yet it contrasts with the kind of "almost gentle" way in which they pay homage to one another and that is what makes the ending and the way Fiennes (and perhaps Shakespeare) intended it to be taken, all the more powerful.
Coriolanus is not the kind of movie you watch over and over again, but for those scenes that feature the tension and exchanges between Butler and Fiennes, I would watch it again. The choreography and the direction by Fiennes worked magic and the audiences recognize it.
For the terrific cast of actors and for a fine directorial debut by Ralph Fiennes, I recommend this movie.
Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate