Caius Martius is not a baby-kisser. In Coriolanus, the first big-screen adaptation of the lesser-known and notoriously difficult Shakespeare tragedy, this leader of men fights for his city of Rome, but he has no love for his constituents. He calls them “curs” and “fragments,” damns that he’s forced to even share their wretched air, and even refuses to show them his war wounds to prove the sacrifice he’s made. In short, Martius is too honest to be a politician, especially considering that first-time director Ralph Fiennes has set things in the era of cell phones and Skype.
Fiennes stars as Martius, later dubbed Coriolanus following his triumph over the city of Coriole—the most satisfying aspect of which is the defeat of his most hated enemy, Aufidius (Gerard Butler, not quite successfully hiding his Scottish accent). Considering the source material (adapted by Gladiator’s John Logan) as well as Fiennes’ own fierce performance, his directorial debut is an impressive one. The cast (including Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, and the currently ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) lets Shakespeare’s words flow off their tongues with speed and dexterity, and while you may not always pick up the lyricism of the language, you’ll certainly get the gist.
And the gist is that Coriolanus is so stubborn and arrogant that he gets banished from Rome, where the people are fed up over a food shortage as well as their leader’s contempt. He seems startled but not overly concerned about this; if anything, his mother (Redgrave) is more disappointed, having previously shown such intense pride in her son (those half-crazed eyes!) that it could easily be mistaken for bloodlust. (She boasts of his scars, as well as tells his wife, played in a throwaway role by Chastain, that if she had a dozen sons, she’d be quite happy to see 11 of them die nobly for their country.) Even if you don’t understand her character’s zeal, Redgrave’s a marvel.
So too is Fiennes, who hisses, bares his teeth, and fights with a blood-spattered face in a role not all that different from his Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. He’s venom in human form: Following his banishment, he shows humility only out of a desire for vengeance and approaches Aufidius for a partnership. He’s gonna get Rome or die trying.
(Coriolanus’ trip is one of the film’s only laughable moments, as the clean-shaven character hitchhikes until he looks like Jesus. The sequence lasts only about a minute.)
Often, Fiennes employs an unsteady cam to capture action, even if the action is only a swarm of citizens shouting their dissent. It lends the film an immediate and tense documentary feel, which feels especially contemporary and visceral when soldiers are kicking in doors and sticking their guns in innocents’ faces. Yes, these are moments meant to parallel modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Coriolanus is more about a man than a war. Either way, Fiennes’ work as director and star makes this a noteworthy addition to Shakespeare’s filmic repertory.
This Means War Directed by McG
Pop quiz! A good romantic comedy needs which of the following: 1) chemistry, 2) conflict, 3) car chases, 4) explosions. If you’re director McG (Charlie’s Angels), the answer is all of the above, with particular late-chapter emphasis on death-defying stunts and massive fireball. Isn’t that sweet?
Sit down for This Means War, and you’ll just be confused by this weird romance/action hybrid—or, more accurately, bored, at least until the pyrotechnics show up. The story involves CIA partners/best buds Tuck (Tom Hardy, charming but deserving better) and the ridiculously named FDR (Chris Pine—eh). FDR’s a ladies’ man but Tuck is a shy loner, unable to have a relationship with the mother of his son. Then there’s Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), a workaholic who doesn’t take time to pursue a relationship—until, that is, her bestie, Trish (Chelsea Handler), enrolls her with an online-dating site and creates a steamy profile. For some reason—though we don’t see when—Tuck answers Lauren’s ad. (Perhaps Trish was right when she said guys would really react to the camel-toe photo.)
Tuck meets Lauren at his usual hangout while FDR plays clandestine wingman in a nearby video store in case the date goes south. The pair drool over each other but call it an early night, with Lauren mentioning that she’s going to...rent a video. Naturally, FDR comes on to her, having not seen a pic of his friend’s new friend.
It’s hate at first sight, but FDR (boy, is that name annoying) is persistent, showing up at Lauren’s job and badgering her into a date.
The agents all too quickly find out that they’re pursuing the same woman, and, well, that means war.
This Means War was scripted by Timothy Dowling (Just Go With It) and Simon Kinberg (Jumper and X-Men: The Last Stand), not the most pedigreed pair of screenwriters. Here’s a partial list of the rom-com cliches they employ: wacky/raunchy best friend. Shot to the crotch. The line, “I trusted you!” The ex-boyfriend who’s now engaged and living a perfect life. The surreptitious apartment break-in. (The better to stalk her, my dears.) And, let’s not forget, our lead character, the gorgeous work-obsessed “loser” without a love life.
Throughout the courtships, Lauren whines to Trish about how hard it all is, Tuck tries to kick his nice-guy crutch, and FDR—what do you know?—becomes a romantic. There are a couple of minor laughs here and there, plus the trio actually conveys palpable physical attraction. (Even the boys have a bit of a bromance.) And if you think you know where things are heading—well, you actually don’t. It’s a nice if not entirely believable surprise. But after the shoot-outs and blow-’em-ups, you would have had to have entirely suspended disbelief by that point anyway.