Coriolanus & I Saw The Devil

March 22nd, 2012 by | Tags: , , ,

Coriolanus (directed by Ralph Fiennes, script by John Logan based on a story by William Shakespeare, 2011): I think I came into this one with the wrong expectations. I’ve never read the play, and the trailer made it seem much more exciting than it actually is. Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes, a blood feud that leads to a man being outcast, more than a little homoeroticism… Fiennes gave this interview, I forget where, and he explained that the rivalry between the two plays out like a love story. The trailer makes it sound like a good time at the movies. Instead, we get all of that, but with added interminable monologues, slipshod analogues between Rome and Now, and nothing ever resolving satisfactorily.

There are bits I liked, of course. I thought the modernized Rome was a really cool setting, and Fiennes’s son was very interesting. This was my first real exposure to Jessica Chastain (she has a really familiar face), and she was pretty okay. Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox were great, though, definitely the highlights of the film.

But past that? Past the actors I liked, I had a hard time staying awake for this one at 1315 on a Saturday. The accents weren’t a big deal, but the monologues were a well-delivered huge bore. It needed more of the midnight parties involving head shaving and barbershop chairs or ugly fistfights in dusty, blasted apartment buildings and less of people walking around a room, looking everyone in that room in the eye, and talking about their motivations.

The people I saw it with loved it, though. Maybe the trailer just tricked me.

I Saw The Devil, directed by Jee-woon Kim, written by Hoon-jung Park, 2010 (Netflix): I watch a lot of these revenge movies. I had this one in my queue for months, though, before a pal talked me into watching it. Two weeks later, I finally watched it, and it was pretty okay. It stars this dude Byung-hun Lee, who I liked a whole lot in GI Joe and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. This one was pretty okay, but frustrating at the same time.

I Saw The Devil is a revenge movie with a point, which tends to be exponentially less successful than revenge movies that don’t have one. Luckily, though, the point is “Don’t go too far with your passion or everything will fall apart,” or something like that, so you get a lot of exploitative violence to go along with the cheap, unearned, and unlikely ending. In fact, while the ending is imploding in slow motion, you’re treated to shots of a new height for revenge in these revenge pictures.

But from back to front, this is a movie about a secret agent (of some sort, you only ever see him do one secret agent-y thing, other than all the revenging) hunting down the dude that killed his lady. There’s no subtlety here, near as I can tell. Lee tracks Choi Min-sik, breaks his bones, cuts his tendons, and generally goes in as far as torturing a man goes. The guy runs, then figures out who Lee is, and then goes on a rampage. Lee’s boss wants his badge and gun. Blah blah blah.

Director Jee-woon Kim takes an uncomfortable, rather than gleeful, approach to the violence. Ears get cut off, there’s gallons of blood and guts, someone’s Achilles tendon gets cut at one point… it’s cringeworthy violence, rather than “Oh MAN!” violence. But at the same time, it gets that cringe not through some type of moral point of view or anything like that. The camera leers over the stabbings and crackings. You see skin break and hear bone’s crunch. The direction is pretty effective, actually, and I’d like to see more from this guy, maybe in other genres.

The ending doesn’t work for me because so much of the movie is concerned with slow pans over trauma. The movie says one thing (“Mmm, here’s a little shocking violence!”) and the ending says another (“Mm, violence… bad idea, bros.”) and doesn’t do a good enough job to bridge the gap between the two. There’s a leap that never gets made between the spectacle and the moral. It’s aight watching, but nothing exceptional. The style of violence sets it apart from a lot of other movies in this genre, but the script isn’t good enough to keep it from feeling bland in the end.

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7 comments to “Coriolanus & I Saw The Devil”

  1. David – Have you ever seen any of the other ‘modern’ Shakespeare adaptations like Titus or the Richard III with Ian McKellan? I’m curious as to how Coriolanus compares to those.

  2. @Brian J: I’ve seen… uh… Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, but I don’t think that counts. (Coriolanus is better made than that, but the first five minutes of R+J > Coriolanus for sheer style.) Hopefully some other commenters have seen those and can clue you in, though. I don’t think Coriolanus is a bad movie, just not at all what I expected. I’m also unfamiliar with the original work, which I imagine colors my opinion, too.

  3. I’m assuming he means the Anthony Hopkins “Titus”. Which isn’t really a modernized version, though it has several intentional anachronistic elements thrown in. Its a pretty over-the-top movie, no surprise given the source material it stays pretty close to…

  4. I really liked I Saw the Devil. I think you’re kind of off about the message only being present in the ending–Think about the first time Lee’s character uses the tracker on Min-sik’s. Yeah, he beats him up, but he’s already raping a woman by the time Lee gets there. By taking the approach to revenge that he did, Lee’s character ends up hurting way more people than if he’d just arrested Choi Min-sik–and that’s present throughout the entire movie. The message rides along with the plot and the cringeworthy presentation of violence, it’s not a leap from movie to ending. And I can’t agree with your “bland” comment, given the intensity of the violence and the insane setpieces. (Cannibal mansion? Come on, that’s weird as hell). If you didn’t like it, you didn’t like it, but I thought it was really good.

    Also, Jee-woon Kim also directed The Good, the Bad, and the Weird. Not sure if you knew that, given your comments vis-a-vis genre.

  5. @Aryehhs: I totally didn’t realize that GBW was a Jee-won Kim flick. I don’t know why I didn’t think to check that, but I loved that movie a whole bunch. The bland comment comes more from how I felt at the end of the movie. I wasn’t impressed or stunned or anything. The violence was cringe-worthy, but it didn’t exactly… it’s not that it didn’t make an impression so much as the impression it made on me wasn’t that deep or serious. I can totally see why other people would like it, though. My friend Luis (the one who got me to watch it) loves it, I think. I’m gonna try to get him to talk about why he liked it in these comments, in fact. It just didn’t work for me. I like your comments, though, and the cannibal mansion was definitely a highlight.

  6. @david brothers:

    I’m a big fan of Titus, although it’s more of a Grand Guignol phantasmagoria than a relatively straight adaptation. It’s visually stunning even if the DVD for it looks less than great. It’s also most of the source material for the Scott Tenorman Must Die! episode of South Park as it is also beyond twisted.

  7. I don’t know for me I saw the Devil works in a different way, beside having good action I think it’s raising about the nature of Revenge. If you notice the only Revenge flicks or stories with “good” endings that are also realistic in the sense that we can believe the outcome would really occur the way it did have villains as the lead.

    For example Parker the hunter is a revenge story that ends really well for our main character. Here you have a guy who is clearly a villain though he’s totally ok with stepping over anybody to get what he wants. When he finally has Mal in his arms he doesn’t torture him either he simply kills him.

    In this movie we have a good guy trying to do the whole revenge bit and he messes up because at the core of it he’s trying to teach the bad guy a lesson, he’s trying to make him regret for what he’s done. This is his error and that’s why shit goes badly for him, he should have killed him and ended it when he first subdued him. It’s that which makes revenge ill suited for a good person. He wanted to make the guy feel his pain, Parker just wanted to kill Mal.

    It’s almost not even personal for Parker he’s just going to even the score. It’s that detachment I think is key. So that brings me to my last point is revenge intrinsically “evil” or wrong? Is it a tool that can’t be used by those who are good?