Then Jesus said to him, Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the
sword will perish by the sword.
Hitting the theaters at about the same time as the much talked about Bully, William Shakespeare’s depiction of the Roman General who defeats an enemy only to be rejected for the office of Consul because of his scorn for the people, which he regards as a “mob,” could be seen as a bully film. Set in a Bosnian-like country with tanks, guns, and grenade launchers replacing chariots and swords, Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in the film.
Ralph Fiennes works both sides of the camera, as director and as the haughty patrician general who disdains the commoners who expect more of him than he is willing to give. A virtual killing machine, he is not at home even among his patricians in the Senate, walking out during the session when they are honoring him. Gerald Butler, Brian Cox, James Nesbit, John Kani, and Jessica Chastain (memorable as the Mother in Tree of Life) are all excellent, but the scene stealer is Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, the ambitious mother used to dominating and using men. When her exiled son son joins his arch enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) in an attack on Rome, she goes out to meet and plead with him to desist.
Although I still believe that 17th century language and modern dress are a poor, incongruous mix, this one is so graphically powerful, and the great British cast so able to deliver the archaic lines so meaningfully, that this is a satisfying way to see one of the master’s lesser known plays. The film demonstrates the classical definition of tragedy as being about man brought down by a fatal inner flaw.
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