Ralph Fiennes (the esteemed actor now best known for embodying Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) gave himself no small challenge for his first directorial effort. Coriolanus is a dense political Shakespeare play modernized by Fiennes and writer John Logan (Gladiator The Aviator Hugo) into a raw bloody war movie. The film maintains the play's original text a theatrical speech that manages to both heighten and impede the drama in certain instances. But Fiennes injects the material with unfiltered energy and even when the story is lost in its own intricacies it's visceral and commanding.
Presented against the nightmarish backdrop of "Rome " a Children of Men-esque land devastated by raging battles Coriolanus follows the troubled political career of Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes) a general who fights resistance movements butts heads with local protestors and evades attack from influential statesmen. Martius is driven by one goal: to defeat his former friend and long-time nemesis Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) leader of the opposing Volscian army. Rather than attend to the city's rioting population the general joins his military squad to breach the Volscian's walls in hopes of going mano a mano with Aufidius. Martius achieves victory after victory (without putting an end to his Aufidius troubles) becoming a hero to his government. Eventually through his overbearing mother's persuasion Martius is convinced to put down his semi-automatic and begin an ascent to political greatness. It doesn't go so well.
Even if the abridged version of Coriolanus presented in the adaptation was a slow-paced talky drama every detail of Shakespeare's complicated narrative may still be difficult to parse but Fiennes isn't looking to hold any hands. He shoots his movie with the kineticism of a Bourne movie or the recent Hurt Locker full of shaky cam movement and too-close-for-comfort close-ups. He uses the extreme presentation of 24 news networks to replicate in Shakespeare's expository asides while bombarding our senses. He has a cast who can deliver The Bard's poetic dialogue with a cadence that fits realistic setting. The sound and feel of the language is as important as the meaning.
Fiennes isn't as concerned with audiences registering every last minutiae of Coriolanus and he takes every opportunity he can to let his cast off their leash to dig into the drama's inherent intensity. The director/actor plays Caius Martius Coriolanus like a rabid dog—crazed behind the eyes and ready to unleash a barrage of hellfire and spit. Butler's Tullus Aufidius is a low-key foil but when the two finally butt heads neither gentleman holds back. The real stand out is Vanessa Redgrave as Martius' mother Volumnia whose hushed manipulation is even more terrifying than Martius' over aggression.
Coherence isn't the priority in Coriolanus and attempts to connect with the characters becomes a chore but Fiennes's first foray into directing is enjoyable in the exhilaration it delivers to a time-honored text. Forget your memories of 11th grade English—this is unique adrenaline-infused Shakespeare.
Running Scared is a few plots shy of being well-thought out. It starts with Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) a low-level employee of an Italian mob family who over the course of 18 hours has one hell of a time. First he has to get rid of a gun that killed a crooked cop in a drug deal gone bad. Instead of disposing of it however Joey goes home and hides it in a panel in the basement as future collateral only to have his 10 year-old son’s best friend Oleg (Cameron Bright) discover and abscond with the weapon so he can shoot his abusive Russian stepfather (Karel Rodan) who is also mob connected. Then we get to follow young Oleg now on the run as he encounters all manner of nocturnal miscreants. I mean seriously this is the kind of night that should permanently screw the kid up. Meanwhile Joey--aided by both his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and son--is trying desperately to get to the boy and the gun before the mob factions find out. Not one of your more stellar evenings. What is cutie-pie Paul Walker doing shooting people having sex on a dryer and saying the f-word over and over after he just saved a pack of Huskies from freezing to death in the Antarctic? Kind of bad timing for Walker to have his feel-good family movie Eight Below released a week before this R-rated bloodbath. Running Scared definitely shows an edgier Walker but the outdoorsy movies just work better for him. The young Bright on the other hand has made a short career of playing creepy sullen kids. First he disturbed us out as a cloned child in Godsend; then he made us really uncomfortable as a kid who claims he’s Nicole Kidman’s reincarnated husband in Birth. So playing a boy who goes through one of the more nightmarish evenings ever isn’t really a stretch. As a side note Farmiga (The Manchurian Candidate) does a nice job as Joey’s wife who has just as much chutzpah as any of those testosterone-pumped mob guys. This is how writer/director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) describes Running Scared “It’s like a Grimm’s Fairy tale nightmare but taking place in the Mob world…” Well no kidding. Kramer uses familiar gritty crime drama techniques such as framing the film in that grainy washed out look and doing slo-mos of people getting plastered by shotguns. You know the drill. It’s effective but the problem is while Kramer bombards the audience with one Grimm situation after another--from pedophiles to crazed pimps to ear-biting gangsters--he forgets to create a cohesive film. Of course the director nearly redeems himself with a clever twist near the end but it’s just not enough to make up for the many times you’re sitting there cringing and thinking “What the…?”