Sunday, 4 March 2012

Coriolanus Review

I'll start by saying that I do not like Shakespeare.  I used to be vehemently against everything about Shakespeare and thought it was irrelevant and should not be taught at all.  I have since softened that stance and can now see the literary and historical benefits of studying it.  However, I have yet to be convinced that there are any cinematic benefits to maintaining the Shakespearean language in a screen adaptation of his plays; especially a modernization.  As a reader, I can read and reread a passage as many times as it takes to understand what is being said.  As a film viewer, I get one chance and because it is essentially a different language that uses English words, I become lost in dialogue.  That should not happen in a movie.  Many people argue that to change the language to a more modern version is an insult and travesty and yadda yadda yadda.  This is an argument that I just do not buy.  Take the play and translate it scene for scene and shot for shot.  You do not have to leave out story elements because those are great in Shakespeare's work.  I don't go to the movies to hear a beautiful poem.  I go to see a movie and watch a good story unfold.  Because it is so different from the English we use today, it needs to be translated just like any other language.  This is especially true if you are going to modernize everything else about the film.  It is the same problem they had with Romeo and Juliet.  Don't go halfway.  If you are going to modernize the setting, filming, costumes, etc., you need to modernize the language too.

That is the main problem with this movie.  Unfortunately, the benefits of Coriolanus are not enough to outweigh the fact that the language caused me to zone out a bit and have my mind wander.  But that could also be due in some part to the fact that it moved a lot slower than I originally thought it would.  I came in thinking that this would be much more of a political/action movie and it turns out to be another tale of pride, betrayal and treachery that many of Shakespeare's tragedies are.  In fact, I should have known better because not only is it Shakespeare, it is Ancient Rome and Ancient Rome was basically nothing but pride, betrayal and treachery.  But, because it was a Roman story, I wanted to see it.  I am a huge history buff and Rome is my favourite topic.

Add the fact that it has some terrific actors in Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox and I actually made a point of seeing it.  Fortunately, through all of the actors' body language and inflection, I was able to follow the story all right.  The acting performances were quite good and had the right emotions for the situation all the way around.  With that and very good use of sets and settings in Fiennes' direction, it made it easier to understand what was going on. (I must stop and say I liked Fiennes directing but he did make the mistake of using a shaky camera so that's another strike against the film.)  However, because of the Shakespearean language, I found it very difficult to understand why anything was happening.  Why was Fiennes calm then infuriated?  Why did the crowd want him as Consul and then do a 180 within 30 seconds?  Why did Butler say he understood Fiennes' feelings and then do a 180 himself?  Why? Why? Why?  In an intricate story of pride, betrayal and treachery, the why becomes pretty important.  I think that's why I enjoyed the Tempest much more.  It was pretty much a comedy and I could sit back and laugh.  In fact, I enjoy Shakespeare's comedies more simply because of that.

Sadly, I cannot recommend this film.  Rome is one of my favourite topics and because of that, I wanted so badly to love this movie.  But, when I cannot understand why things are happening, that overshadows all the good things about the film making.  Don't See it.

1 comment:

  1. The 180 turn by the crowd was too out there for me. That kind of thing, the moustache twirling villains changing the minds of the populace, worked in plays in Shakespeare's time. But it's a perfect example of why simply transposing the work of Shakespeare into modern times is a flawed concept. Especially in a film.

    They also did way to much blatant "newsreel" exposition at the beginning, and throughout. However Fiennes performance was top notch.