Friday 3 February 2012

Coriolanus (2012) - Ralph Fiennes

Coriolanus may not be one of Shakespeare's best known plays, but its political themes transcend its seventeenth century origins.  Fiennes proves this in his directorial film debut, by setting the play in a fictional "Place Calling Itself Rome" filmed in Serbia.  

Rome is transformed into a modern wasteland reminiscent of the mid-90s Yugoslavian war.  Graffiti covers the crumbling walls, gunfire echoes down war-torn streets and the Roman phalanx is transformed into police riot shield walls.  The parallels to recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the London riots are all clear, heightening the cultural relevance of the play to today's society in a display of bloody realism. 

Fiennes's choice of cinematic techniques enhances this sense of realism.  The film is shot predominantly with a handheld camera by The Hurt Locker's cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, to add a gritty, documentary feel.  The battle scenes in particular have a visceral quality to match the likes of Call of Duty.  Most prominently though is the use of news bulletins, used to frame the various acts of the film.  The very opening is told as a news story, the angry plebeians revolting against the patricians led by Caius Martius (Fiennes), a man who shows as much mercy as "there is milk in a male tiger".  Even news reader Jon Snow makes a (jarring) appearance reading Shakespeare's verse as a report.  This contemporary twist gives the film added dramatic weight and a frightening sense of authenticity.

Second to its political themes is the importance of language.  For all his military bravado, Martius is unable to win over the public and is manipulated by quick-witted politicians and, most of all (in an Oedipal sense), his domineering mother.  The script, however, has little room for poetry, though this ultimately works in the film's favour.  Not once does Shakespeare's language seem out of place, but correlates to the film's realism.  There's still plenty of room for important monologues, delivered powerfully by Fiennes.  Indeed the cast as a whole, including Gerard Butler, Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave, offer excellent performances that are brutally believable.

Fiennes's cinematic adaptation is at once intelligently produced and a thrilling watch, transferring the intimacy of Shakespeare's play on to the big screen whilst retaining, at its core, a predilection for quality acting.