Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain & Vanessa Redgrave
Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a general who gets his hands dirty. He fights like a nutter and his life’s mission is to slay his sworn enemy,Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). His psychotic heroics lead him into a position of political power and earn him the name ‘Coriolanus’. However, Coriolanus conducts himself with the decorum of a fighting man and soon falls out of favour with his once adoring public. Exiled from his homeland of Rome, Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius and they form an alliance with a jealous plot to overthrow Rome. The central relationship of the film is that of Coriolanus and his mother (Vanessa Redgrave). She is the only person on Earth that Coriolanus has to fear.
This present day reimagining takes place in some sort of Soviet-type, militant nation ‘calling itself Rome’. The world created is great. Just naturalistic enough to bring Shakespeare into the 21st century, just surreal enough to remain a Shakespeare: Theatrical, poetic, heightened.
The film is Ralph Fiennes’ directing debut but he is clearly at home with the source material. Many of the performances are stirring, most notably John Kani and Fiennes himself. Technically, however, I would not say the film is well directed. Much of the film consists of Newsreel footage, which works well, but the remaining majority of the camerawork is a confusing mix of evocative long-lens photography and gritty handheld shakiness. This results in some strange and jarring coverage, a lot of imprecise soft-focus and an all-around cheap look to what should be quite an epic film.
Coriolanus will undoubtedly be an acquired taste. It won’t have as wide an appeal as Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet adaptation, probably for much the same reason that the original play was less popular than the most famous love story ever told. Coriolanus has a reputation as one of the wordier Shakespeare plays. And that’s among actors! In that sense, through embracing the heaviness and juxtaposing it with conservatively energizing battle sequences, the film maintains a solid pace.
It’s an altogether bold effort, well worth seeing. Perhaps Shakespeare is rather like jazz; i.e. mainly for the benefit of the people on stage? In which case, this film is a fitting debut for Fiennes, whose particular forte within filmmaking is, as it happens, acting.