x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Coriolanus

Fiennes deserves credit for turning a dense, complex, ancient drama into a modern action thriller.

Coriolanus
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox

Fiennes makes an impressive debut behind the camera with this punchy, contemporary reboot of William Shakespeare's bloodthirsty military drama. Revisiting a play he performed on the London stage a decade ago, Fiennes both directs and stars as the eponymous anti-hero, a self-destructively proud general who is reluctantly promoted to high office, where he becomes so disgusted with peacetime politics that he eventually turns violently against Rome. Shooting in Belgrade, Fiennes re-imagines ancient Rome as a lightly disguised Serbia. Echoes of recent Balkan conflicts are obvious, but these ravaged streets and angry mobs could just as easily be in Iraq or Libya – or even Wall Street. Fiennes plays Coriolanus as a broodingly intense, shaven-headed killing machine made unexpectedly vulnerable by the lukewarm compromises of democracy, his battle-hardened bluntness transformed overnight from asset to liability. Butler also gives a persuasively physical performance as the hero's former wartime enemy while Redgrave is majestic as his imperious, controlling and ambitious mother. Big-screen Shakespeare adaptations often defeat stage-trained actor-directors, who tend to be overly reverential towards the language while mishandling cinematic spectacle. But Fiennes and his team make smart choices, keeping the poetry intact yet heavily pared down. The visceral combat violence is also powerfully depicted in the shaky, kinetic style of TV news reportage. Occasionally the anachronistic dialogue feels clunky, while the production's modest budget is apparent in thin crowd and battle scenes. But Fiennes deserves credit for turning a dense, complex, ancient drama into a modern action thriller without sacrificing too much of either.

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