Some things are just worth the wait; after debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 and a brief theatrical run one of the Bard's most bloody plays has been adapted for the silver screen. With "Coriolanus" we are treated to an intense political thriller thrust into a more modern setting thanks to a sharp directorial debut from its star.
Directed by Ralph Fiennes
“Coriolanus” adapted from a play by William Shakespeare brings us Caius Martius ‘Coriolanus' (Fiennes), a revered and feared Roman General is at odds with the city of Rome and his fellow citizens. Pushed by his controlling and ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) to seek the exalted and powerful position of Consul, he is loath to ingratiate himself with the masses whose votes he needs in order to secure the office. When the public refuses to support him, Coriolanus anger prompts a riot that culminates in his expulsion from Rome. The banished hero then allies himself with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Butler) to take his revenge on the city.
Rarely has a film based on a tragic play been so damn compelling, Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut has put together a masterful adaptation of the Bard’s work that manages to feel relevant while still maintaining the rich complexities of the original dialogue. Transplanting Rome into a modern context where guerilla type warfare is taking place outside her city walls gave the warring factions, political back stabbings, family tension and bloody war a legitimate tension feeling like equal parts news or political discourse and entertainment. With Fiennes assured and confident vision behind the lens, this complex mesh of style and sensibility that finally put a little bit of dirt on Shakespeare’s work is a genuine interpretation of the material and a damn fine middle ground between the art house aesthetic and the Hollywood blockbuster styles of filmmaking.
Fiennes tears into the lead role of Caius Martius Coriolanus with vigor, on occasion we see an actor tear into a role knowing what he could do with it, and with this Fiennes goes above and beyond channeling everyone from Patton to Rambo for what resulted in a simply visceral performance that commanded every frame of the film that he was on. Gerard Butler as his nemesis Aufidius didn’t get quite as much screen time, but held his own quite well in a top shelf ensemble. Vanessa Redgrave poured herself into the role of Volumina as Coriolanus’ domineering mother, and match Fiennes blow for blow. Getting to see two actors of that quality in extended verbal jousts is always a thing of cinematic beauty. The rest of the ensemble that included Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain , James Nesbitt and others never disappointed at any turn, as they backed up Fiennes’ brilliant performance.
Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are solid and special features are a feature length commentary track with star and director Ralph Fiennes as well as a brief making of featurette.
Despite a small number of moments where the film got a little too slick for its own good; “Coriolanus” is a damn fine political thriller that could easily go down as one of the best Shakespearean film adaptations that has been seen in years.
4 out of 5 stars.