Coriolanus (2011)

Coriolanus (2011) – Shakespeare… Sometimes seeing Shakespeare’s words brought to life means seeing a very proper Englishman on stage in a doublet and tights enunciating vowels and trilling r’s. Other time it’s a fucking tank bursting through the wall. (That second example is from Richard Loncraine’s Ian McKellen-starring Richard III.) Acclaimed British person (and man unaware of how “Ralph” is supposed to be pronounced) Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this new version of Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare’s not-as-popular but still highly-lauded plays that has never before been adapted to film. Fiennes’s vision is set in “A Place Calling Itself Rome” that seems to very much resemble a war-torn Eastern European country (due largely to the fact it was filmed in Serbia). Coriolanus is a bloody tale of war so the setting isn’t much of a stretch. So does Ralph “Seriously, who the hell pronounced Ralph like Rafe?” Fiennes have the directorial chops to make such an update work?

Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a soldier. He fights. He protects. In the beginning of the movie, “Rome” is having a food shortage and Martius is tasked with rationing the food. In his mind the military takes precedence and he lets the general citizenry know just how much contempt he holds them in. Martius is also defending the city from the forces of Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). The two view each other as worthy opponents. In a battle in Corioles, Martius defeats Aufidius but is prevented from killing him. Upon his return to “Rome,” he is decorated with the new name Coriolanus and persuaded by his ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and her senator friend Menenius (Brian Cox) to seek the office of consul in the Roman government. Coriolanus is uncomfortable with this as it involves seeking the support of the people (who, as I mentioned, he doesn’t think much of). Two other senators Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Brutus (Paul Jesson) are worried what Coriolanus might do once in office and conspire against him (man you just never can trust dudes named Brutus in Shakespeare plays). In order to revenge himself against his enemies, Coriolanus must seek the support of his vanquished foe Aufidius.

Oddly enough, while watching this film I was unable to tell if Coriolanus’s anti-democratic sentiments were supposed to echo Shakespeare’s actual beliefs. He lived in a monarchy so it wouldn’t be a stretch. Hollywood has a tendency to impose democratic beliefs on historical characters that would not or did not have them in order to make them more relatable (William Wallace in Braveheart, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, Ridely Scott’s Robin Hood). Either way, Fiennes seems to view Coriolanus’s outright contempt for the common citizenry as his tragic flaw. Fiennes is good in the role. I still can’t quite conceive of how actors can direct themselves like that, but enough have done it (including Laurence Olivier in several other Shakespeare films, one of which landed him an acting Oscar) that I guess it just is about the talent of the person involved. The cast as a whole is pretty damn good really. Plus Sacramento Shakespeare Festival veteran and Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain is in it, and it always makes me happy to see a fellow Sac Shakes alumnus doing well (even if they came and went a decade before I did). Coriolanus, for me, never reaches the wonderful heights of the aforementioned modernized Richard III, which is the closest movie I can think of tonally to compare it to. It is however a story I was unfamiliar with so it was pleasant discovering it. The language, as is to be expected, is beautiful constructed. I think that Shakespeare kid may be going place… (I should stop making that same joke is all my Shakespeare reviews… should, but won’t…)

One Response to “Coriolanus (2011)”
  1. Gil says:

    Thank you for reviewing Coriolanus, Jaykbroox. Yesterday, before leaving my office at DISH, I saw online that Coriolanus was available to download to my Hopper DVR. I rented it and it was ready to play when I got home. Like you, the story of Coriolanus was unfamiliar to me. The description didn’t mention anything about Shakespeare, so when I watched the film I was a little to hear Shakespearian prose in a modern, war torn European setting. Modernizing Shakespeare can be a tricky task, but I think they did a pretty good job with Coriolanus; I found the movie to be an interesting mix of shoot em up and Shakespearian dialogue.

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