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'Coriolanus' gives us the Bard in our time

Los Angeles Daily NewsMay 31, 2012 

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    These DVDs also were released this week (when two prices are listed, the second is for Blu-ray):

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    Television: Maverick: The Complete First Season ($39.98); True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season ($59.99, $79.98); Royal Pains: Season Three — Volume Two ($26.98); Murdoch Mysteries Season 4 ($59.99).

    Older films: Summer With Monika: The Criterion Collection ($29.95, $39.95).

Ralph Fiennes is electrifying as the title character in Coriolanus, his directorial debut.

In the film, adapted from one of Shakespeare's lesser-known tragedies, Fiennes plays a larger-than-life Roman military hero so commanding that crowds are silenced by his stare.

The story has been set in modern times in a war-torn Balkans-like country, with partisan blood feuds and a landscape besieged by conflict and famine.

An unlikable, cold sort, Coriolanus is praised at first for his military victory over his people's archenemy, the Volscian Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), but his ambitions at home put him at odds with far craftier political vipers. The hero soon becomes an outcast and finds himself allied with his former enemies.

Fiennes has brought together a brilliant cast, including Vanessa Redgrave as his ferocious mother, Jessica Chastain as his devoted wife and Brian Cox as his friend.

The language remains Shakespeare's, but Fiennes' phrasing and that of his cast is done in a way that makes it accessible to today's audiences. And even if you don't get all the words, the actor-director's visual style is so directly intense that there is no problem understanding what is going on.

With its number of battle scenes, Coriolanus is as much an action film as it is a Shakespearean play.

Coriolanus retails for $26.98 or $29.99 Blu-ray.

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