Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sympathy for the Devil

Sadly overlooked at the recent British Academy Film and Television Awards, Coriolanus is probably the best film I have seen in the last twelve months. Adapted by Gladiator scribe John Logan from a script by an English playwrite called William Shakespeare (if this lad sticks at it, I think he might have a future), the film relocates the action to a war-torn European state, evoking thoughts of the tragedies of the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict in the late 1990s. This obviously has the effect of updating the action to a modern milieu, assault rifles replace swords, army fatigues replace leather skirts - you know the drill - but apart from that, the story of the 'too absolute' general is preserved, replete with Shakespearean verse and barnstorming performances.

A lot of the reviews have picked out Vanessa Regrade for particular attention, and she deserves every word of praise for her portrayal of the loving mother who uses her son's devotion to push him too far down a track he does not want to follow. But Brian Cox is equally marvelous as the politician who seems to know all the angles; delivering Shakespeare as if he were chatting with you down the pub, anyone would think he spoke in verse all of the time. Gerard Butler is given a chance to show that he can actually act, and Jimmy Nesbitt and Paul Jesson are obsequiousness made flesh as a pair New Labour types who manipulate public opinion for political gain without a thought for the consequences.

Then there is Ralph Fiennes himself in the central role. Coriolanus is a uncomfortable character for a modern audience to embrace. He is completely disdainful of the public - how about this for an insult?

What's the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?

Not bad, is it? Or this one?

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcases of unburied men
That do corrupt my air – I banish you!

Coriolanus gets many of the best lines and, in a very odd sort of way, he is the hero, in the end, he is the character with which one sympathises - surrounded by the liars and blaggards of a disreputable political elite, he is uncorrupted and true to his nature. 'I play the man I am', he says.

The one aspect I could have done without is the Hurt Locker/Green Zone-style camera work by the very DP who lensed both of those critically lauded war movies, Barry Ackroyd. Personally, I don't find this kind of 'documentary-style' adds realism, it just adds confusion and nausea. That excepted - the film is mostly dialogue scenes, after all - I even enjoyed the scenes of John Snow speaking Shakespearean dialogue. Yep, I liked it that much!

If you can find a cinema near you that is playing it, I highly recommend you check it out for yourself.


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