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Review: Politics Echo Through the Passage of Time (Coriolanus)

What I found most fascinating about Ralph Fiennes’ occasionally poignant but ultimately misguided directorial debut is how politics seem to be the one constant throughout society. The ideas of deception and greed are amplified in Coriolanus. And with 2012 already bringing the skewed and often juvenile GOP debates (in which incorrect information is spouted by candidates to better their entrance into the Oval office) The Weinstein Company couldn’t release this film at a more opportune time.

Like the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, Fiennes creates a contemporary translation of  Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare’s least-recognized plays. The story is simplistic: Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a primitive soldier for Rome. Upon his return from war, society feels Caius is not fit to represent the people. He’s arrogant, unsympathetic, inflexible, and antiquated. But he has power. And with power, he has authority.

That is until Coriolanus is banished from Rome on charges of “treason”. Infuriated and forced to leave his family behind, he joins forces with his archenemy, Tillus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to take revenge on the city that disavowed him. Manipulation is the intricate piece of the puzzle in Coriolanus. The citizens of Rome change their views on our hero with a slip of a malicious word. In Fiennes’ adaptation it would appear that not a single citizen contained a thought of their own. Then again, that begs the question: Has that really changed?

Aside from the political aspects of the film, Coriolanus is a mess. Lacking in tone, pace, and in feel for its modern-day atmosphere. I was never quite convinced that our characters – speaking in a seemingly cryptic Shakespearean vernacular – accepted the setting.  That’s not to say the acting on display isn’t impressive. Fiennes, Butler, Vanessa Redgrave (as the mother of Coriolanus), and Brian Cox (a consultant) are all fantastic. And the films attempt to modernize a play by Shakespeare is sporadically rewarding.

Coriolanus shows great promise for Fiennes. It’s an intelligent film; it’s also unfortunately devoid of a narrative. The character of Coriolanus is a living enigma. And that enigma provides sufficient initial intrigue. However, by the films conclusion, it has – as with our protagonist’s character – many flaws in its narrative structure that make forgiving the film nearly impossible.

2 out of 4 stars

You may read everything I write Duke & The Movies and follow me on twitter @SamFragoso

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