I watched Ralph Fiennes’s superb directorial debut Coriolanus last night. It is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and Fiennes does it justice with a gritty adaptation, using a documentary camera technique. Like Orson Welles’s Julius Caesar, the play is transposed to modern times while retaining the Shakespearean language. The questions of power, representation, umbilical bonds, and the conflict between liberty and security are given a contemporary relevance. The adaptation is artistically bolder than Julie Taymor’s excellent Titus, even if Taymor’s adaptation was more creative and seamless in incorporating modern motifs into an ancient, rather more fantastic story. The performances, particularly Fiennes’s and Vanessa Redgrave’s, are outstanding. The only quibble I have is Coriolanus’s strutting. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is confident of his own physical and moral superiority, he has nothing to prove. Whereas Fiennes’s Coriolanus is often stiff and affected, as if he feels the need to keep reminding others of his strength. The tattoo on the neck was just out of place. Gerard Butler is far more relaxed in his role, even if his performance is somewhat lacking in conviction. Lubna Azabal, last seen in the Canadian film Incendies, is convincing as the intense and rebellious Tamora.
The film is a real treat; I enjoyed every minute of it. I recommend it to everyone. There are some bravura performances by Fiennes and Redgrave, but the scene where the proud and fascistic Coriolanus has to visit the public forum to seek support for his consulship from people for whom his contempt remains unhidden, is just sublime.
Most sweet voices!
Better it is to die, better to starve,
Than crave the hire which first we do deserve.
Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here,
To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear,
Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to’t:
What custom wills, in all things should we do’t,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heapt
For truth to o’er-peer. Rather than fool it so,
Let the high office and the honour go
To one that would do thus. I am half through;
The one part suffer’d, the other will I do.
Here come more voices.
Your voices: for your voices I have fought;
Watch’d for your voices; for Your voices bear
Of wounds two dozen odd; battles thrice six
I have seen and heard of; for your voices have
Done many things, some less, some more your voices:
Indeed I would be consul.
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Butler’s most recent role, in the based-on-a-true-story feature Machine Gun Preacher, is complicated: Butler plays real-world church leader and impromptu military leader Sam Childers, who overcame his past as a drug dealer and addict to found a church in Pennsylvania and an orphanage in Sudan, where he’s openly led military missions to stop raids by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, and rescue child captives and child soldiers. (Childers is also touring in support of Machine Gun Preacher; we spoke to him and the movie’s screenwriter in a separate interview.) The A.V. Club recently spoke to Butler about playing a real-world figure, dealing with downtime, and the funny side that got him into rom-coms.:
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