Archive for the ‘Brian Cox’ Category


15 Aug

Coriolanus – directed by Ralph Fiennes. High Tragedy. A great warrior refuses to be polite for political position in. 123 minutes Color 2012.


Changing People’s Minds is the subject of many of Shakespeare’s plays. What is the outcome of asking people to go against their grain? Hamlet tortures himself with it. Macbeth tries it although he knows it won’t work. Lear’s daughter refuses to do it. Coriolanus is the great examination of this subject. Changing people. And of all his great tragedies it is the one that contains scenes of the most excruciating brilliance. How does someone who is set in his ways, see himself other than what he takes himself to be? How can he see himself at all. “That’s just the way I am,” he will say, not realizing that the real truth is, “That’s just what I do.” Identification with one’s own behavior as The Truth, identification with one’s own emotional habits, identification with the righteousness of one’s conduct and story, obscured by the triumph of its success in certain circumstances, enriches our spectacle of this extraordinary person, Coriolanus, a man made darker of mind by the fabulous rhetoric he can speak to support himself on his path. The text is simple and thorny, the diction plain and incomprehensible because the utterance of internal musings. This is how the mind actually works, the words not so much a way of thinking as an interiority. And it is very difficult for the ear to reach into. I performed Cominius in this play once in my acting life, and it is remarkable how, once reading the script which seems to be written in another language, one gets under it to find how physical it is, and therefore how renderable. Brian Cox, who plays the campaign manager Menenius, is a case in point of an actor who has discovered this, the secret of making all the points so small they reverberate with reality. When he leaves we should miss him more. The ubiquitous Jessica Chastain plays the worried wife, a thankless role we thank no lesser actress is performing. Vanessa Redgrave, an actress who I monstrously dislike, is Volumnia, the mother, the holder of moral suasion for the hero, but her performance is too exquisite for us to see Volumnia’s neurosis as being more hypnotic to Coriolanus and herself than either her maternal care, her passion, or her reason. After all, there really is something wrong with Volumnia. But the performance is simple, direct, and clear. Although there is nothing Mediterranean about her, the same is true of  Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, a part one would suppose him too slight of vitality and physique to play (Richard Burton was notable in the role), but not so. He is marvelous. With his lowering brow, his intention is so resolute, it has no place to go but collapse. His belligerence is massive. He fights with Gerard Butler as Aufidius as though every knife blow were a deep passionate kiss. They both do. Aufidius can kill Coriolanus, but cannot conquer him. He cannot out-best him. The best he can do is hate and adore him. Fiennes brings to the role an unexpected physical solidity, a snobbishness so symphonic you dare not admire it, the assurance of a hero who has his own back. He tends to play many of his big scenes small, and so he should, for the camera, after all, is right at his nostrils. He has a trick of raising his upper left lip in contempt and disgust, which is essentially mugging, and like many English actors he tends to generalize and bray when loud, so the words are lost. And the principal responsibility with filming Shakespeare is that it be detailed, not a word lost – not to whispers and not to shouts. But, for the most part, one leans forward in the wonder of what resides behind Shakespeare’s incredible diction. The power of it to release the human truth of the actor is without competition. It is a very great play, Shakespeare’s only tragedy in the Greek mode, Coriolanus, the drama of  a man of the highest accomplishments and whose valor preserves civilization, being brought down by the rigidity of his own ideals. His is the human tragedy of holding onto the part of you that you take to be yourself, yet your relinquishing of that part to your peril. Not easy watching. But great watching.



The Rookie

07 Aug

The Rookie – Directed by John Lee Hancock. Sports Drama. A 40-year-old baseball coach keeps his promise to God. 127 minutes Color 2002.

* * * * *

Carter Burwell’s score draws a line under every scene with the same color as the scene, making the obvious unmistakable. This is exactly the way to score a film such as this, a Disney sermon, which is inspirational and important. Important for people to see who have not fulfilled their promise. Because it’s never too late. When you consider a film like this, it’s easy to see what’s there: story, yes; situation, yes; talented actors, yes; competent direction; yes, proper filming, yes; clear roles, yes. Script, no; characters, no. It’s not that people say what people would never say under the circumstances, so much as it is that they do not say enough and that what they do say lacks the power of personal verbal flavor. This means, with too little dialogue, the actors must fall back on their personal eccentricity, which Rachel Griffiths wisely does, or that actors must fall back on acting, which makes them look ridiculous in the case of that wonderful actor Brian Cox in his final scene (watch him grasp for straws) or like a ham, which is the case with Dennis Quaid. Quaid, always well cast, is an actor of great charm and application. Good looking, with a grin and a smile almost as endearing as Brando’s, and with a winning way about him. He is a terrific male physical specimen and an ideal sort of all-American type (don’t put him costume drama, though; don’t ask him to play a European of any kind).  But over time, he has gotten to be very technical actor, and you can see it in his mouth. He makes faces. (And you rally have to be Greta Garbo to know how to do that.) So he gives less of a gutsy or eccentric or innocent performance than one which fulfills the routines of the script. Still he is a lovable cuss, and has his moments here. The film promulgates bourgeois American virtues and feelings. Why not? That’s Disney’s job always. Someone has to do it. And I need it from time to time. What makes the whole thing work is that the baseball stuff  works like blazes and that it is cast bottom-heavy with superb senior actors who give foundation and validity to the message without spelling it out in any bigger letters than Carter Burwell uses. This clarity makes it possible to turn elsewhere without disgust. Good family fare, to be sure.




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