Coriolanus: Shakespeare works best in its original Klingon

Coriolanus – 2012

Director Ralph Fiennes
Starring Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Paul Jesson, John Kani
Screenplay John Logan based on the play by William Shakespeare

Before I say anything else, I must say this: Coriolanus is nonsense.  Out of context and out of its time, it is the square peg trying stubbornly to fit within a round hole.  One could rightly compare the fact that this movie is certified “Fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes to any of the pretentious folk who walk into an art museum filled with sub-par works and then carefully espouse the virtues of the work while nervously looking about to make sure that they are agreed with.  Most of this 94% have no idea what they are watching, but they don’t want to be the first to say so.

It’s not that the story has no place.  It’s a prescient observation on politics between those who have and those who have not.  As the titular character, Fiennes is a war general in an alternate reality of Rome, where apparently the Catholic Church does not exist, but tanks, television networks and other modernities abound.  Why set this story in Rome, and not some other place where it makes more sense?  I will leave this to you.

General Martius (Fiennes) is a good general and a bad politician.  So when victories abroad set him up for a position of power, it is quite easy to see that this flawed, arrogant man cannot survive in the world where people kill with words and not bullets.  This leads him to banishment and then into the arms of the enemy of Rome.  This enemy is represented in the form of Aufidius (Butler).

Butler, Redgrave, and Chastain all look wonderful.  Brian Cox looks right at home in any environment.  Fiennes, however, is in Red Dragon mode.  He has one mood throughout, petulant vengeance.  One could say he masters the mood of one who believes he is better than politicians, common folk and his enemies, but what can that possibly mean, line after laborious line?

The story is good enough, but the language throws everything off into an arrogant collection of diatribes which do nothing for the viewer but make them search for their thesaurus.  To past, present and future film makers who think it should be an inventive idea to have actors spit out blankly or with an exaggerated rage words that are 600 + years  old as if Elizabethan dialect makes sense outside of England when it was written, I have but one thing to say: don’t.  Just because you are too lazy to translate this stuff into English, doesn’t mean we think it’s a privilege to do so.  Keep the Shakespeare to a relevant line or two within the context of a different story.  One can even put the effort in to make a modern-day version, like 10 Things I Hate About You.  That people will remember.

But hey, the movie looks good for low-budget war drama.  Not Hurt Locker good, but “let’s have the Shakespeare paint the picture” good.  So, in essence, it’s not useful in any sense.

(**1/2 out of *****)

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