By Caryn James | James on Screens January 20, 2012 at 11:31AM
Publicizing a film makes for very strange sleepovers. Ralph Fiennes’ stunning modern-day version of Coriolanus – which Fiennes directed and stars in – arrives in theaters today after a brief awards-qualifying run in December. Set in a country resembling Serbia during the war, with Fiennes as the prickly and ambiguous military hero Coriolanus, the Shakespearean high drama is fraught with topical issues including political ambition and pandering, loyalty and betrayal of family and country - so I can’t really explain why Fiennes’ promotion included turning up on Andy Cohen’s cocktail-infused talk show Watch What Happens Live on pajama night. It was last night’s stunt show in which Cohen and guests Fiennes and Holly Hunter all wore pjs and animal slippers, and ended up having a raucous pillow fight.
Fiennes did laugh a lot and played up his rakish British charm; you have to like him for not knowing who Snooki is. Was he really having fun or is he just that good an actor? Either way, his appearance on a pop-culture Bravo show made the point that Coriolanus is accessible to everyone (and the heated homoerotic charge between Fiennes’ Coriolanus and Gerard Butler’s character, his military rival, does make the film, like Cohen’s show, very gay-friendly.) Shakespeare might even have approved of the pillow fight; he did have his broadly comic side and he was a professional playwright who wanted to put people in seats at the Globe.
Silly promotions aside, Coriolanus is dazzling. Plenty of actors- turned-directors know how to get great performances from a cast, but few have Fiennes’ cinematic eye. He creates moments of intense intimacy as well as explosve war-time action as Coriolanus is pushed and pulled by his own ambiton for power and his reluctance to play campaign games to win a civic election (very resonant today). He is masterfully nudged by his ruthless mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave. The screenplay by John Logan (Hugo) incisively trims Shakespeare’s play while retaining its eloquent language and form.
If you missed it, you can catch up with my interview with Fiennes here.
Here’s a clip of the pillow fight (more clips at Bravotv.com) and a trailer for the film. Whatever you do, don’t miss Coriolanus.