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.
Adapted from John Boyne’s award winning novel Pajamas presents a different view of the Holocaust told as a fable primarily through the eyes of an 8-year-old German boy Bruno (Asa Butterfield) whose father a Nazi officer (David Thewlis) is transferred from Berlin to a desolate outpost. Bruno finds nothing much to do and no new friends to play with. His older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) pretty much ignores him preferring to spend time playing with dolls or talking to Lieutenant Kolter (Rupert Friend) an eerie young man working for her father. What the father knows and doesn’t tell his family is that his new assignment is running a concentration camp. Despite the warnings from his mother (Vera Farmiga) to stay away from the huge backyard Bruno heads to a “farm” he sees in the clearing where he meets and befriends a Jewish boy Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) on the opposite side of a barbed wire fence. As the frequency of his visits with this boy in the striped pajamas increases Bruno learns more about intolerance in the world and the fences that divide them. As his “education” continues the story takes a surprising turn. Although the film has typically fine performances from an impressive roster of actors -- including Thewlis Farmiga and Friend as well as veteran Richard Johnson as Grandpa -- it’s the remarkable young stars who make the most vivid impression. Butterfield is especially impressive showing the emerging curiosity of a young child caught up in a new environment and circumstances he can’t quite grasp. His outgoing friendly nature and his discovery of a human connection despite the barrier of a barbed wire fence is well-played and carries the entire film. This is perhaps the first time the tragedy of the Holocaust has been portrayed in such a manner and it’s all on Butterfield’s able shoulders. Equally fine is Scanlon playing the title role with haunting sunken eyes but who like Bruno shows us a better way through an uncorrupted innocent perspective. Their scenes together are touching and quietly intense and both are easily up to the task. Smartly adapted for the screen by director Mark Herman this delicate fable about the effects of hatred senseless violence and unimaginable prejudice as filtered through the eyes of children has become far more dramatic and complex in its trip to the big screen. The novel is essentially FOR children an attempt to show the Holocaust in terms they could more easily understand. The film uses the children at the center of the story to express a more universal and tragic view of war and the Holocaust. Herman has still captured the surreal fable at the heart of Boyne’s book but it’s pointedly real and effective in its devastating impact when seen on film. Shot on location in Budapest Herman expertly captures the lone note of youthful hope and power of friendship embodied in his two remarkable young leads who seem immune to the reality of death and hate surrounds them. This is a daringly different and gut-wrenching movie that stays with you long after the theatre lights have gone up.