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Sunday, November 25, 2012

CORIOLANUS (2011)

Ralph Fiennes grabs Shakespeare by the short & curlies and hoists his last (and least well-known) Roman tragedy into today’s world, amid a modern conflict like Bosnia. As actor & director, he shoots the public scenes like BBC or CNN news coverage, and the private scenes with hand-held fervor, holding back as much as possible on the pomp. It’s clever, it ‘works,’ but decades of this sort of contemporizing makes the basic concept look nearly as old-fashioned as togas, tights & tiled sets. (Here’s CORIOLANUS FOR DUMMIES: Roman general returns in triumph but can’t quite stoop low enough to please the Tribunes or the famished hoi polloi. (Oops!, that's Greek. How 'bout 'the famished rabble?') Expecting kudos & a consulship, he finds himself reviled & exiled. Hardened to the point of cracking, he now joins the enemy and makes ready to attack Rome itself when his patrician mother begs him to make peace. And we all know what happens to the peacemakers.) Most of the cast are Shakespeare savvy, though Gerard Butler’s enemy commander puts out the occasional blank stare, but Fiennes reads Coriolanus as a Pride-Goeth-Before-a-Fall figure when it’s the man’s unwavering integrity that probably does him in. Well, that . . and listening to his mother! That’d be Vanessa Redgrave who pulls out the same dead-eyed, icy stare that Ethel Barrymore once owned. But the best perf comes from Brian Cox as Menenius, the close aide who grows irrelevant, a favorite Shakespearean type. Think of, say, Buckingham in RICHARD III. Did Will write these scene stealers for himself to play? Flawed as it is, the remarkable (and remarkably current) play still manages to come across and is worth a look. (NOTE: Just a reminder about our Family Friendly rating.  It's not necessarily meant to be taken for Kid Friendly, but as truly Family Friendly. As in, something that might work for the whole family.  A high-schooler stuck with a bad bit of Shakespeare might find this newsy approach fresh; and it certainly lends itself to a current events type of discussion.  That kind of Family Friendly.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Back in ‘79, Morgan Freeman did Coriolanus for The New York Shakespeare Festival. The production was taped (for television?), but was it ever shown?

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