Coriolanus (opening today in Los Angeles and New York City for awards consideration and going wide in January). This modernized adaptation of one of Shakespeare's least-known plays is nothing if not timely for its provocative examination of how those in power manipulate the masses, at least until the masses get wise to them.
Fiennes also stars and gives a fierce, award-worthy performance as the title Roman general. In the wake of his military victory over the Volscians, led by sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (300's Gerard Butler), Caius Martius "Coriolanus" is promoted by Rome's Senate to the powerful position of Consul. He initially secures the required consent of the Roman populace despite his prickly personality and thinly-veiled contempt for "the rabble." But when Coriolanus's political enemies expose and inflame his absolutist convictions, the public not only withdraws its support but votes for Coriolanus's banishment.
The enraged, humiliated general subsequently seeks out the Volscians and their leader and proposes an alliance against Rome. Surprisingly, Tullus Aufidius receives his former enemy warmly and something of a bromance begins between them. Alas, things don't end so well for the pair; Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's tragedies, after all.
Not unlike other works by the Bard, Coriolanus contains its share of homoerotic elements. This is especially apparent in the devotion the Volscian troops show their new co-leader, shaving their heads to appear like him, toning their bodies and stripping down to tank tops. Fiennes and Butler make a potent combination physically as well as in their mastery of Shakespeare's prose, although Butler's Scottish brogue sometimes makes his lines difficult to understand.
Otherwise, screenwriter John Logan's savvy, streamlined approach to the source material makes Coriolanus easily accessible to movie audiences. The story largely plays out on big-screen televisions, cell phones and the Internet, and the military hardware employed is decidedly Bush-era. Those who have been following the "Occupy" movement will easily find relevant the rallying cry of those opposed to Coriolanus and the Senate: "The people are the city!" As the 99% continue to rise up today against the power-wielding minority, Shakespeare's work proves to be not only poetic but prophetic.
Fiennes' amazing supporting cast includes Vanessa Redgrave (giving her best film performance in years as the general's ruthless mother), Brian Cox and actress-of-the-moment Jessica Chastain, who won the New York Film Critics award for Best Supporting Actress earlier this week for her turns in The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter. Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd effectively utilizes the same combination of hand-held cameras and sweeping vista shots he did in The Hurt Locker.
Coriolanus is challenging, as all Shakespeare is nowadays to increasingly untrained ears. It likely won't be a big hit at the box office but could reap some significant nominations if not awards and go down as one of the better modern interpretations of his work.
Reverend's Rating: B+
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.