There comes a time when veteran actors begins to feel like they would like to be one of the acclaimed directors they had worked with in their careers. Some have even starred and directed their own films, and it seems like it is time actor Ralph Fiennes (Quiz Show, Schindler’s List) to take the director’s chair and the lead role in his re-interpretation of William Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”. Fiennes had played this role before on a London stage and it seems like he just couldn’t shake his love for this character. Fiennes does very well in this powerful drama and may have made his mark as an actor turned director.
Cauis Martius, now called Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a revered and feared Roman general who loves his country but not its people. After his recent defeat of his nemesis, Aufidius (Gerard Butler, 300, Law-Abiding Citizen), Martius is urged to run for consul at the behest of his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave, Atonement) and his handler Menenius (Brian Cox). Martius wins the senate’s approval but is shunned and rejected by the angry citizens as they label him a corrupt arm of the Roman government and Martius incites a riot that leads him to being exiled from Rome. The banished hero now joins forces with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius to exact his revenge and face his destiny….
The film is a classic tale of honor and betrayal. Those who are familiar with Shakespeare’s tale would know exactly what this film is all about since its core premise is intact. It is about a man of honor; a man whose integrity feels so out of place in this world. Torn between his own principles and pride, the man chooses to be who he is, and the traditions and responsibilities of the world fall down on him. Fiennes’ version of Shakespeare’s creation is shot more like a war film that comes complete with bloody, intense gun battles and knife to knife combat. Fiennes knew what he was in for and handles everything with careful accuracy and heed. For a man on his directorial debut, Fiennes wields the story with precision to make the Shakespearean story as timely to modern times while resonating the political strife as only Shakespeare ever could.
The screenplay by John Logan is filled with the utterance of Shakespearean dialogue which may seem to be rather alienating at first, but then it begins to work so well in the film that it all began to feel natural. There is just something so amazing when a scene that feels so familiar becomes more powerful with the delivery of such poetry amid a scene that is meant to express the stress, the confusion and the futility of such political strife. I was very impressed, even as in its violent sequences, there is an aura of majesty and honor as Martius and Audifius lock knives against each other.
Ralph Fiennes comes out with an outstanding performance. He is very believable in his role as someone so proud that he would deny himself being subjected to the ‘nays’ of an ungrateful bellowing crowd. Fiennes exhibited that power and intensity that made him so convincing as both a savior and a destroyer of men and nations. Butler is just as capable in his role, but he was easily overshadowed by Fiennes. There was a moment that when the two embraced and the scene certainly spoke tons of the hatred and respect between them. Shakespearean dialogue can become a little stuffy, but when delivered by Vanessa Redgrave who just commanded the screen with her fervor, one cannot help but take notice to what is being said in the screen. The scene of Volumnia and Martius wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain, The Debt) stood out with so much narrative power as they reprimanded Martius’ weaknesses and flaws.
Fiennes does so well in modernizing this classic story. He directed with care and uses his own love for the material that he was able to capitalize on the story’s key moments to drive the film’s momentum. He was able to cut off the excesses of the play and what becomes is a tightly wound drama-thriller. As a performer in his own film, Fiennes was scary and intimidating; if a little enigmatic. Supported by a strong cast in Butler, Redgrave, Cox and Chastain, “Coriolanus” is a powerful film that is worthy of a look.
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
Special Thanks to Anchor Bay Entertainment for Sending Me a Screener Copy for the completion of this review.
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Opened January 20, 2012 (Limited 1/20) | Runtime:2 hr 2 min
R- Some bloody violence
Information for parents: Common Sense Media says Iffy for 16+.
Caius Martius ‘Coriolanus’ (Ralph 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’s anger prompts a riot that culminates in his expulsion from Rome. The banished hero then allies himself with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to take his revenge on the city.