Coriolanus: Rediscovering the Bard

Coriolanus is the kind of movie that does as much service to the larger body of knowledge as it does to the limited body of entertainment. For me, it reintroduces William Shakespeare in a way that makes him endearing and interesting. And I can’t thank Ralph Fiennes (the actor in his directorial debut) enough for this.

The movie follows a rather tragic life of Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), a soldier and a hero. The time is present day and age (although the story is more than 400 year old) and the events unfold in a city ‘that calls itself Rome’. The Rome of Coriolanus could be any war torn failed state that we see flickering on the 9pm news every day. This is precisely the beauty (and the tragedy) of this whole premise. After 400 years, we have only come a full circle.

Caius fights a gruelling battle in the Volscian city of Corioles and wins it from the hands of Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), the general of the Volscian army. Caius comes back to Rome with 25 wounds to prove his valour and the grateful people of Rome bestow him with the sobriquet, “Coriolanus”. Menenius Agrippa (Brian Cox), a seasoned and wily politician, and Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), Caius’s mother, convince him to stand for the position of Consul. Unfortunately, Caius is a man of action and not of words. His rather extreme views about his superiority and the common man’s inferiority, ignites a mass riot for which he is held responsible and banished from the City. The bitter and infuriated Coriolanus now joins hands with Aufidius, his ancient enemy, and seeks revenge on an ungrateful city. What happens when your weapon turns against you? (read, Al Qaida and the USA). What happens when a soldier is expected to become an administrator? (Read, any military ruler to have ruled on the face of this world). What happens next is what legends are made of.

The singular factor that sets this movie apart from everything you’ve seen, is the language in use. The very thought of making modern day characters speak poetic lines wins half the battle. Gems like these to describe disdain for public love

Who deserves greatness

deserves your hate…

Hang ye! Trust ye?

With every minute you do change your mind,

and call him noble that was now your hate,

him vile that was your garland.

Or like these to describe a renegade who switches sides

“There is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger.”

It also helps that the actors spouting these lines are all seasoned actors; actors whom Shakespeare himself would have proudly cast in his plays.

Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as Coriolanus. You can feel his disdain for the people, his pain, his reason for vengeance and his final outburst. Gerard Butler has surprisingly, precious little to do, but still does it with conviction and sincerity. Brian Cox is brilliant as Menenius. The only other actor who stands up the finesse of Fiennes is Vanessa Redgrave who gives a powerhouse performance at the age of 75.

Coriolanus is not without its faults. The language, although poetic, still takes time to get used to. Sometimes the gravity of the situation is lost by the audience as they concentrate less on what is being said and more on how it’s being said. Many of the minor characters like Tamora, Virgilia and for that matter even Aufidius, are not properly fleshed out. John Logan (Gladiator and The Last Samurai)’s screenplay also takes it for granted that the audience is well-versed with Roman legends and Shakespearean English.

Eventually, these are minor hiccups when compared to the larger scheme of things. Coriolanus deserves an audience for its bravura performance, for its wonderful language and most importantly, for making us realise that if we don’t learn from history, we are bound to repeat it. All in all, a worthy directorial debut by Ralph Fiennes.

Rating: 8/10

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The Devil’s Double – “Dominic Cooper’s movie”

What happens when, in a movie about lookalikes, you are watching the actor playing the two roles act like his lookalike, and he is able to make you truly believe that he is acting? Didn’t get it? Yeah, well that’s how awesomely well Dominic Cooper has played the two roles in the highly entertaining movie The Devil’s Double.

The movie is supposedly a biopic about Saddam Hussein’s crazier-than-Vindoo Dara Singh-on-coke son, Uday Hussein and his body double Latif Yahia. We say “supposedly” because there is an entire section of media reports saying how the original Yahia’s story might be masala-fied version of reality. Be what it may, but even if 30% of what is depicted in the movie is true, this guy deserves to be made a movie about.

The Devil’s Double is a story is told from the viewpoint of Latif Yahia, much like in The Last King of Scotland and Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy). Yahia is pulled out of the military and asked by Uday Hussein to become his body double. In spite of his refusal, under torture and threat to his family, Yahia is coerced into becoming the fiday. He is introduced to all the comforts and luxuries he would have as Uday’s ‘brother’ and made to undergo surgical procedures to ensure their resemblance is as near perfect as possible. He is taught the talk, the walk, the clothes and the hair that he is supposed to present to the outside world. Once the transformation is complete, what begins is a journey filled with madness, incessant murders, sexual debauchery and even more madness.

Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double

The real Uday Hussein was known for his sometimes unprovoked killings and even more so for his insatiable sexual appetite. A psychopath laden with power and money, Uday Hussein had no qualms in abducting school girls from the streets to make them his sex slave, use his posse to dispose of the bodies of women he would rape and kill and even pick up brides from their own marriage venues. All of this is portrayed extremely well in the movie and Dominic Cooper (for those of you who have difficulty in placing him, he played Howard Stark in Captain America) does exceptionally well in making the audience feel absolute hatred towards Uday Hussein and at the same time force them to feel sorry for Latif Yahia.

 

The movie progresses in a similar tone for quite some time until Latif falls for one of Uday’s girls, Sarrab (the French actress Ludivine Sagnier) and decides to get out of it all. This is followed by Uday’s people trying to hunt Latif down, a lot of running, chasing, yada yada yada…till the end.

Now here’s where the movie doesn’t work so well for us; first one is a minor one – the role of Saddam Hussein. Although he has a collective screen time of less than 5 minutes, Philip Quast as Saddam is a big letdown. There was so much more intensity the director, Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day), could have added to the role.

The second, and the major disappointment – although we are impressed with Cooper’s acting skills, we fail to understand why they couldn’t bring in a real Iraqi to play the part. Try as hard as he might, Cooper’s British accent and mannerisms consistently surfaces and breaks the Iraqi image he is trying to portray – remember how annoying Dev Patel was in Slumdog Millionaire?

But in spite of its arguably dismissible flaws, the movie is worth a watch.

Rating: 6/10

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