Ralph Fiennes' 'Coriolanus' Getting Oscar-Level Praise from Berlin
In between Sundance and Cannes is the Berlin Film Festival, which kicked off Thursday and goes until next week. One of the films premiering there is actor Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut - his contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, which we've been excited for ever since finding photos last year. Coriolanus just premiered in Berlin and early reviews are hitting left and right. Best of all, they're positive, very positive - In Contention's Guy Lodge says that it's "an early Oscar bet" and proclaims that "Vanessa Redgrave will receive a 2011 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress." There's lots more - read on!
At first I thought it was just a couple of reviews, as pointed out by Awards Daily, but then I found more and more praise, like Guy Lodge's glowing editorial: "If everything in Fiennes's film was quite as staggering as Redgrave, we'd be looking at a Shakespeare adaptation for the ages." As a recap, Shakespeare's Coriolanus (published early 1600s) follows Roman military leader Caius Martius - played by Fiennes himself - who returns home from a war against the Volscans as a war hero with a new last name, Coriolanus, given for the city he conquered. However, he is banished from Rome as a traitor. So Coriolanus then allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city. The version we saw in the photos is set in a modern Rome and the cast includes: Fiennes, Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt and Jessica Chastain.
So who else has given it a positive review that we need to point out? Well, there's THR's Ray Bennett, who calls it "a production that delivers heavyweight screen acting at its best." And here's more from his review:
"At a time when revolution is once again in the air around the world, Ralph Fiennes delivers a ferocious reminder of the perils in store when a warrior becomes the head of state. He directs and stars in Coriolanus as William Shakespeare's Rambo, an invincible soldier who survives odds so overwhelming that he comes to believe that he alone merits the title Consul of Rome.
"Set in current times with Shakespeare's language adapted skilfully by John Logan, and performed under Fiennes' direction with modern phrasing, the film illuminates the playwright's astonishing gift for timeless insight into what moves the human spirit and motivates ambition."
Then there's the UK paper Telegraph, which gave it only 3 stars, but still plenty of praise for Redgrave and others, even Fiennes' performance as the title character Coriolanus. Critic Tim Robey writes in his review:
"Perhaps because of the unprecedented task of directing himself on screen, the impression Fiennes's performance makes here is only fitfully strong and not always disciplined, though he does rise to an impressively bloody pitch of rage in the great 'I banish you!' speech...
"The two best performances come from Brian Cox, making of Menenius a cagey, fatigued diplomat, and Vanessa Redgrave, quite tremendous as Volumnia. The way she grasps and massages the part, you feel Shakespeare could almost have written it for her: she's both implacable and hugely moving, advancing with steel in her entreaties and fire in her soul. Bumpy though the film is as a whole, the handful of terrific scenes it gives one of our great actresses means it's hardly to be sniffed at."
There's also the UK's Independent, which gives it an impressive fours stars and contains some of my favorite quotes about the film I could find. Independent critic Geoffrey MacNab writes in his review of Coriolanus:
"Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus is a bloody, testosterone-filled updating of Shakespeare's play, shot and performed with real vigour. This is the Bard done action-movie style...
It's questionable whether Fiennes and his team uncover anything new by reworking Coriolanus and setting it in the present day. What they do deliver is a rousing and primal drama – one of the few films likely to appeal to action fans and Shakespeare lovers in equal measure."
I've been curious about Coriolanus ever since first hearing about it, but now I'm definitely looking forward to it. The Weinstein Company recently picked up the film for release, so I'm sure it'll be out in the fall later this year. We know the European crowds are tough, critics were harsh on Sofia Coppola's Somewhere at the Venice Film Festival last fall, though it went on to win the Golden Lion anyway, but it's great to see this film coming out of Berlin with such strong buzz. Fiennes has had plenty of experience as an actor and on-stage, including in a theatrical version of Coriolanus, that I expected he might be great at directing, at least with Shakespeare. It's a bit crazy to be talking about Oscar buzz for next year when we're only weeks away from this year's Academy Awards, but that's why the film industry is such a crazy place, it never stops running.