Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt, Lubna Azabal, Ashraf Barhom, Dragan Micanovic, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul Jesson, Harry Fenn
Written by: John Logan, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes
MPAA Rating: R for some bloody violence
Running Time: 123
Date: 02/14/2011

Coriolanus (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Many-Headed Multitude

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, and Kenneth Branagh before him, Ralph Fiennes now takes on the daunting duty of directing and performing in a big screen Shakespeare adaptation. Even more daring, he tackles one of Shakespeare's lesser-known works, Coriolanus, and then adapts it to modern times, using guns, war, and CNN-style TV coverage. It all works extremely well -- with the exception of the ugly hand-held cinematography designed to make the war footage look more chaotic, but instead only looks jerky.

When Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) returns home from the war, he is treated as a hero, though he doesn't feel like one. Nonetheless, he reluctantly agrees to run for Roman consul. Two tribunes, Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt) denounce him and encourage the Romans to cast him out. Left with nothing, Coriolanus joins forces with his greatest enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and plans an attack on Rome. After Menenius (Brian Cox) fails to coax him home, Coriolanus' aged mother (Vanessa Redgrave), his pretty wife (Jessica Chastain) and young son (Harry Fenn) brave the dangers of the front lines to try and appeal to Coriolanus' humanity -- and hopefully save Rome.

Oddly, the dialogue fits well into the modern setting, and the TV pundits sound perfectly natural. Even the questionable casting of Gerard Butler pays off, as he plays the bloodthirsty bad guy with all the arrogance and gusto he usually brings to his heroic roles. Fiennes is especially magnetic, though he can't keep his scenes from being stolen by the magnificent Vanessa Redgrave; For her, it's a crowning achievement in an already great career.

Anchor Bay released a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. I wish Fiennes had dispensed with the shaky-cam and made a better looking movie, but it's still very much worth seeing. The Blu-ray includes a commentary track by Fiennes, which is serious, but nicely detailed. (I always enjoy commentary tracks by actor/directors; they know how to make it interesting, and they also really have something to say.) There's also a 5-minute making-of featurette, which is basically just the usual marketing stuff.

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