Coriolanus, movie

Strong characters lead the best of the week’s DVD releases: Coriolanus, Blackthorn… and The Courier

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Coriolanus, movie
Coriolanus: the subject matter might be 400 years old, but Ralph Fiennes imbues the story with a hard-edged topicality

Directed by (and starring) Ralph Fiennes, in what is his directorial debut, brutal Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus (Lionsgate) tells the story of Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes), a feared Roman General whose lack of empathy for Rome’s citizens prompts a mass riot, which culminates in his expulsion from the city.

After being pushed by his manipulative mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) to achieve the powerful position of Consul, Coriolanus’s refusal to ingratiate himself with the populace looks set to cost him dearly, and the war-hero takes the bold decision to ally himself with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler, 300) to take his revenge on the city and its duplicitous power-brokers.

Considering the subject matter is more than 400 years old – the Shakespeare original was believed to have been written between 1605 and 1608 – Coriolanus feels remarkably topical, with its tale of double-crossing politicians and never-ending conflict. The story repays Fiennes’ confidence in the material, and despite his theatrical background, he imbues the material with a solid cinematic punch. In spite of the play’s Rome setting, Fiennes has opted to transplant the action to the ravaged post-War Balkans, and the film was shot in and around Belgrade, Serbia. Indeed, the gritty, war-torn aesthetic is something of a masterstroke, and the geographical disconnect arguably adds depth to the proceedings.

Driven by an array of impressive performances, not just  from Fiennes, but also Gerard Butler, and Brian Cox who stars as slippery, unscrupulous politician Menenius, Coriolanus’ forceful plot feels impressively timeless. While the Shakespearean language will doubtless prove off-putting to some viewers, there is no denying the bludgeoning impact of Fiennes’ hyper-stylised vision, and Coriolanus arguably stomps all over Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet with its combat boots. Impressive stuff.

 

Blackthorn, movie
Blackthorn: Sam Shepard as an aging Butch Cassidy in a film which blends established myth with an elegiac sensibility for the Old West

Blackthorn (Chelsea Films) is the English language directorial debut from Spanish filmmaker Mateo Gil, who is probably best known for his screenwriting collaborations with his compatriot Alejandro Amenabar; their shared credits include Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), which was later remade as Vanilla Sky.

The film is a fictional account of an aging Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard, The Right Stuff), now living under the assumed name ‘James Blackthorn’ in a secluded village in Bolivia, 20 years after his disappearance in 1908.

Although folklore suggests that Butch and the Sundance Kid were killed in a bullet-strewn standoff with the Bolivian military, according to Blackthorn, Cassidy survived, and is quietly biding his time in a secluded Bolivian village. After growing weary of his self-enforced solitude, Butch/Blackthorn decides to embark on the long journey home in an effort to see his family again before he dies. However, an unexpected encounter with enigmatic young criminal Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega, Transsiberian) forces the aging cowboy into one last adventure, the likes of which he hasn’t experienced for many years.

Renaissance man Sam Shepard’s film work has slowed down dramatically in recent years, and his acting roles have been limited to bit parts in other people’s movies, often scarcely worthy of his attention. Blackthorn is not just a fascinating concept on paper, but also an impressive return-to-form for the playwright-turned-actor, and he imbues the part with the kind of bruised, world-weary quality that you would expect from a man of his talents.

The revisionist western is a strangely marginalised sub-genre, but the intriguing Blackthorn is a welcome addition to the canon, blending established myth with an elegiac sensibility for the Old West. What’s more, the dust-streaked Bolivian backdrop offers the perfect accompaniment to Shepard’s grizzled outlaw visage. Although the uneven script – which wasn’t written by the experienced Gil incidentally – sometimes loses its way, Blackthorn is a neat reimagining of an iconic character. A low-key triumph.

 

The Courier, movie
The Courier: delivering a mysterious briefcase is at the centre of this action thriller

Straight-to-DVD action thriller The Courier (EntertainmentOne) represents the unlikely return to filmmaking from Israeli director Hany Abu-Assad, who helmed the Oscar-nominated 2005 film Paradise Now, which told the story of a pair of Palestinian childhood friends who are recruited to stage suicide bombings in Tel Aviv.

Entirely lacking his previous film’s subtlety and political sophistication, The Courier follows the fortunes of a fearless deliveryman (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, The Losers, The Resident) who is hired to deliver a mysterious briefcase to an elusive Keyser Soze-esque killer, whose reputation sends a shiver don the collective spines of the entire New Orleans underworld. Understandably reluctant to take on the job, the Courier finds himself blackmailed by shifty FBI agents and hounded by sadistic hit-men, and only the obligation to keep his estranged family out of harm’s way persuades him to take on the nigh-on-impossible job.

The always-watchable Jeffrey Dean Morgan may take centre-stage, but he is joined by an enviable supporting cast, which includes Til Schweiger (Inglourious Basterds), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop) and Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad). Suffice to say, the cast isn’t the problem with the Courier – the woeful script is. The plot starts out like a cut-price Transporter knock-off, and goes downhill from there. Aside from the awkward fact that Morgan lacks the sheer physicality of an action star such as Jason Statham, the narrative is full of the kind of holes that you could drive a truck through. The plot lurches from unrelated scene to unrelated scene, while an oddball extended cameo from Mickey Rourke looms large over the proceedings. Despite boasting some appealing credentials, The Courier adds up to far less than the sum of its illustrious parts. Rubbish.