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May 7, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review – Coriolanus


Translating Shakespearean plays to the silver screen is no easy feat. Unfortunately Coriolanus is a perfect example of an adaptation that completely misses the point. It comes off feeling contrived; a self-indulgent intellectual exercise by Fiennes and little more.

Based on the Shakespeare play, the film follows the rise and fall of the Roman General Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), as he battles the armies of Tullus Aufidius as well as the political machinations of those in Rome. Ceaseless manipulation generates a fraught environment, where the characters are constantly manoeuvring for power. Fiennes transplants this story into modern-day Rome, coupled with contemporary features of society such as mechanised warfare.

Despite this intriguing premise, the film suffers from its ill-conceived attempt to meld an older story and dialogue with a modern setting. It’s hard to empathise with any of the characters when they seem so disconnected from the world the film plants them in. A news anchor talking in Shakespearean English is jarring and only serves to strip away the cinematic illusion. Characters end up feeling more like anachronisms than actual people.

Furthermore there is an emotional gulf between what the film asks us to feel and what it actually evokes. Everything feels too melodramatic. The camera jerks around arithmetically to capture every unconvincingly staged and wooden public outburst, whilst Ralph Fiennes seems determined to bellow every single piece of dialogue. The film enters the realm of the absurd, with many scenes feeling ridiculous and out of place within this setting.

That’s not to say Coriolanus is wholly terrible. Fiennes demonstrates keen directorial insights and many of the performances are superb. Vanessa Redgrave in particular is astonishing as the mother with an insatiable lust for control. Indeed the film is polarising rather than objectively bad. Others have adored the film; this critic’s disenchantment may be isolated.

However, I cannot shake the feeling that on the whole the film simply does not work. There is evidence of directorial skill, but Coriolanus fails because it ends up feeling stilted and emotionally barren, turning it into an exercise in tedium.

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