Release Date: January 20th, 2012 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ralph Fiennes Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, Lubna Azabal
Roman food crisis warrants a state of emergency, causing General Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) to suspend civil liberties and deal with rioters at the central grain depot. After an aggressive confrontation is stayed, he’s sidetracked by news of his longtime rival, the commander of the Volscian army Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and journeys to battle him in the city of Corioles. (A certain unconvincing, warrior ceremony exists in the conflict between Martius and Aufidius, which adequately matches the notions painted in the 17th century, but feels outdated for a present day military clash.) It’s after this successful siege that Martius is awarded the cognomen “Coriolanus” for his bravery in battle.
At the behest of his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), and with the help of championing politician Menenius (Brian Cox), Coriolanus runs for consul. Despite an initial victory with the Senate and the commoners, he pridefully misspeaks (merely asserting his beliefs and staying true to his nature) in front of both tribunes and a crowd of angered plebeians. Subsequently, on national television, he’s banished for his traitorous words. Like a lonely dragon, he wanders into the Volscian headquarters in Antium to die at the hands of his archenemy. Moved by the legendary general, Aufidius joins forces with the now discarded soldier, and the two plot to wage a new revenge-fueled (and Hummer and tank-fortified) onslaught against Rome.
“Whence comest thou?” inquires Aufidius. As has been done only a handful of times over the years, this adaptation of a Shakespeare play sticks to the poetic dialogue of the original work but transposes the story into contemporary times. It’s an obvious, jarring contrast that is part artistic but mostly distracting. The sets, settings, weaponry, clothing, sound effects, technology (including the use of TV news footage) and makeup are all of present day qualities and appearance, but the spoken words are lyrically archaic. It’s creative yet difficult to understand, and definitely not for general audiences, who are likely only to digest the visual violence (which resembles a “Call of Duty” game with plenty of over-the-shoulder camerawork) and ignore the deeper, relevant and timeless themes of political turmoil. Being familiar with the play would also be a tremendous help.
It’s a somewhat odd choice to adapt “Coriolanus,” often considered one of Shakespeare’s less accomplished compositions, and indeed performed much less frequently than the household names of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and many more. If only this film could achieve a wide enough reach, perhaps the name Coriolanus (which will probably be made fun of) wouldn’t be so foreign. Ralph Fiennes, in his directorial debut, which isn’t technically or cinematically remarkable (marked most annoyingly by the shaky cam), does demonstrate a knack for delivering a powerful performance. He’s also surrounded himself with a worthy supporting cast. The visuals are well done, with striking images of Martius’ piercing eyes emerging from splattered blood and grime (which makes for impressive advertising art) like something from “Apocalypse Now.” Unfortunately, the action and intensity is sparse, resorting instead to as much faithfulness to the source material dialogue as possible, which yields a sluggish movie – resembling a play simply devoid of the strict boundaries of a stage.
– Mike Massie