I’m trying to think of one thing in this movie that wasn’t absurd, but I can’t come up with anything. Start with why the Scandinavian gorgeous (and smart and sensitive) Diana would be in love with Roger, her short, creepy, pompous husband. Next, how Roger expects to get millions by fencing a stolen Rubens that is a) well documented, b) small and c) not very good. Then there is the dashing Dane whose plan to become ceo while still employed by a rival firm involves murdering five or six people. The climactic showdown between the killer Clas and the amateur Roger is as full of credibility holes as Clas’s body becomes. The movie’s tone is a mess: scenes of potential terror are pierced by absurd bits of humor: Roger hiding from death by submerging in a latrine, then driving a tractor down the road with a pit bull impaled on the tines. But most of all, there is this problem at the movie’s core: the ‘hero’ is someone we just don’t care about. He’s a cad in his marriage, an arrogant snob at his job, and a petty thief on the side. We’re supposed to root for him?
A brilliantly droll faux-documentary by Richard Linklater in which all the fun comes from laughing at the East Texan talking heads – and since these are mainly real East Texans we don’t feel guilty about laughing at them, instead of with them, although that is mainly what we are doing. The three real actors – Matthew McConaughy, Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black – by comparison seem out of place, and this is especially, almost fatally, true for Jack Black who plays an uptight nerd even though we know he is one of the coolest dudes on the planet. It’s good acting, but hardly worth the viewer’s effort to overcome this preconception. In all, the whole thing goes down easy, like biscuits and gravy with sweet tea.
As with every Shakespeare play, I wish I had read at least the first two acts before witnessing the production, to familiarize myself with the dialogue as well as the characters. Not having done this, I found 50% of the lines unintelligible, despite the actors’ good efforts. Nevertheless, the acting was so good that the meat of the argument rang through, and by play’s end I was riveted.
Kudos first and foremost for Ralph Fiennes’s conception, the best updating of Shakespeare I have ever seen. The modern – TV news and tanks – coexisted with the historical – addressing the public in the forum and knife fights – seamlessly. We didn’t know what era we were in, but it was a timeless one. And that, I believe, was Fiennes’s point: the political views of Shakespeare’s play ring as true today as they did in Elizabethan England or ancient Rome. Government by the people? A bad idea. Government by the politicians? Just as bad. I see today’s Republicans intent on nothing but bringing down Obama, and I see Shakespeare’s tribunes undermining Caius Martius. And how different are the Occupy Wall Streeters from the Roman citizens demonstrating for grain?
Finally, the acting is superb: Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, Brian Cox as Menenius, Jessica Chastain (she is everywhere!) as Coriolanus’s wife and, of course, Fiennes himself as the tragic hero.
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