William Shakespeare is one of the greatest storytellers of all time, but his work is still something that not everyone enjoys. There’s no denying the need for translation from time to time, or at least nodding along with the beats if you have the gist of it. Coriolanus is an modernized version of the Shakespearean tale, and it works on each level that it should. Though be prepared for the dialogue, as while the setting is updated, the film retains Shakespeare’s poetic verse for each spoken line.
The story takes place “now” in a random city that’s referred to as “Rome,” but could pass as any major city today. Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a military hero whose arrogance and belief in his own legend knows no bounds. While renowned for his dominance in the battlefield, the people don’t like him and Coriolanus despises them right back. When persuaded by his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) to run for political office, Coriolanus must lower himself in his own eyes to the level of the common people of Rome so that he can win their votes.
However, everything changes when a group of politicians betray him (surprising, I know). Coriolanus is banished from the very city he constantly risked his life to protect. Stripped of his dignity, and his power, Coriolanus makes the walk of shame to the home of his arch-nemesis Tallus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), kneels before him and vows to help him take Rome for his own.
The updated setting for the film will help sell it to a younger crowd who has no real interest in theatrical renditions of the story; though odds are they’ll be turned off fairly quickly by the Shakespearean dialogue. I’ve never seen the play, nor have I read it in any form, and while I understood what was going on, I have to think that the themes and overall tale will come across clearer to those who know the original story.
Fiennes does a superb job acting in this film, and completely embodies the part he’s playing. Even if you’re forced to watch the film and you hate Shakespeare, the excellent performance by Fiennes can’t be ignored. Behind the camera, Fiennes also nails it in his directorial debut, as there are some really well shot scenes throughout, and he has a great eye for staying on actors up close in order to really capture their emotional deliveries. The battle scenes that are shot are also quite intense, with the initial battle early on being the big blowout that really comes together nicely.
The supporting cast all do really great work as well, though no matter how much they may seem to shine in a particular scene, if it’s shared with Fiennes they’re greatly overshadowed through no fault of their own. Gerard’s character Aufidius isn’t really given any major defining characteristics, and when Coriolanus joins his crew, Aufidius seems to become an even smaller character in terms of power.
Brian Cox plays Menenius, who really shines, and is one of the few people who can stand toe to toe with Fiennes in the film. Redgrave hits her mark as Coriolanus’ mother, and while Volumnia is manipulative, she’s one of the lesser evil women I’ve seen in Shakespeare. His wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) is more of a wallflower throughout, which to be fair, is what her character is portrayed as.
It’s actually really hard to figure out who the audience for this film may be exactly. Those who have an interest in Shakespeare will likely enjoy this modernized take on the tale; however, purists will likely find plenty to dislike, regardless of how well it’s shot. Whether or not you should check this out really lands in your own hands, as there are so many factors that play in to flat out recommending it to everyone, that it will all depend on your view of Shakespeare in the end.
The video transfer of the film looks solid, with a sharp look where needed, and some rich darks. The audio also comes through nicely, and for those who have trouble keeping up with Shakespearean dialogue, turning on the subtitles is nice and easy.
Commentary by Actor/Director Ralph Fiennes – This is the meat and potatoes of the relatively thin amount of extras, as Fiennes is exactly the one you want to hear from when it comes to talking about this film. This is his pride and joy, and his first works as a director, so it’s his vision through and through. He touches on various production aspects throughout the commentary, while also talking about performing the play onstage, and how it differs from bringing it to the silver screen.
The Making of Coriolanus – This featurette is under six minutes in length and basically sees the cast and crew briefly talking about working on the film, with Fiennes as a director, and the play itself.
Coriolanus isn’t one of Shakespeare’s more popular plays, and without mention of the playwright’s name on the cover – or anywhere on the back of the case oddly enough – some may just see Fiennes and Butler brandishing firearms, alongside quotes and star ratings that boast the film’s critical acclaim and decide to check it out.
Granted, the film is extremely well made, and it’s worth watching for the work of Fiennes alone (both in front and behind the camera); however, some will no doubt be turned off by the Shakespearean dialogue used throughout that they may not have been expecting, and may not give the film a chance because of it. So be warned, this is a modernized take on a Shakespearean play, full of Shakespearean dialogue and Shakespearean story beats; though now that you’ve been warned, also know that it’s worth checking out if you think it’s something you can handle.
An Alliance Films Release Coriolanus. Directed by: Ralph Fiennes. Written by: John Logan. Based off the Play by: William Shakespeare. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain. Running time: 122 minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: Jan. 29, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes, William Shakespeare