Title: Coriolanus

Directed By: Ralph Fiennes

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson, Jessica Chastain, Lubna Azabal, Ashraf Barhom

Back in high school, I always knew I should appreciate Shakespeare, but getting through his work was so tedious, it often took away from the narrative. Then, once I finally understood the text and perhaps should have gone back for a second go-around to appreciate it as a story, it was onto the next book of the semester, forever branding his work a mere school assignment rather than something that was meant to be enjoyed. Thanks to Ralph Fiennes, if Coriolanus ever comes up in a school curriculum, teens might actually be able to enjoy the material when passing on the text for the movie. (But, of course, I never did that.)

The story now takes place in a more modern Rome, but still focuses of Caius Martius (Fiennes), a solider who deplores the common folk. When war erupts between Rome and the Volscians, Martius comes face to face with his adversary, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Ultimately, Martius prevails and he’s bestowed the name Coriolanus. When his deeds lead the Senate to make him consul, Martius has no choice but to appease the citizens, as he needs their vote to officially assume the position.

Well, actually he has a choice and when Martius chooses to defy the common folk rather than embrace them for their blessing, they banish him from Rome, sending him right into the arms of his utmost enemy, Aufidius. Together, they seek vengeance by taking Rome.

Coriolanus will undoubtedly throw the non-Shakespeare enthusiast off at the onset of the film. Yes, this is an adaptation, but every single line of dialogue is very much in Shakespeare’s language and, like perhaps back in high school, it’s not easy to adapt to. If you are to fall in line with the rhythm of the film, it means succumbing to the fact that it’s nearly impossible to absorb every bit of information. The material is quite wordy and is packed with terms that’d require you to consult a dictionary, but there’s no use in wasting time doing that; Coriolanus is relentless and to break attention for even a moment would mean far more lost than gained.

However, what makes the film work is that Fiennes and his cast are so incredibly in tune with the material. In fact, it seems as though everyone not only knows their lines, but the meaning of every single word in them and exactly how to use them. It’s this stunning degree of precision that makes Coriolanus not only digestible, but incredibly powerful, too.

The stand out elements here are most certainly the performances. Fiennes, Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson, all famous faces, but none show up in this movie. They are their characters and nothing more. Chastain’s given the least to work with, but after a year of film after film, all of which include memorable performances, she takes a giant leap out of the box and somewhat manages to detach herself from the rising star we’ve come to know so well.

Nesbitt and Jesson are pitch perfect as the Tribunes, boasting an impeccable amount of chemistry and rousing crowds with ease. With a roster packed full of fairly volatile players Cox’s Menenius, one of Martius’ few friends, makes for a solid source of stability. Thanks to 300 and the other commercial films that followed, perhaps it’s Butler who has the most convincing to do and he certainly seizes the opportunity. The part comes packed with dialogue, all of which Butler handles beautifully, but it’s during the silent more contemplative moments that Butler reminds us he’s really got a lot to offer.

Despite the abundance of top notch talent, it’s Fiennes and Redgrave as Volumnia, Martius’ mother, that rise to the top. You know how many joke that Morgan Freeman should be president? Perhaps that should change to Vanessa Redgrave. She exhibits such a profound degree of control and passion, it’s impossible not to be swayed by her just as Martius is. As for Martius, it’s just incredible that Fiennes is able to elevate him to the point that we don’t despise him as much as the people of Rome do. There is very little to like about him and far more to fear, but Fiennes reveals just the right amount of vulnerability, to form a connection between Martius and the audience.

Fiennes exhibits a similar prowess as the film’s director. His first go behind the lens, he’s certainly an actor’s director, but also has an eye for stimulating frames and knows what to do with the tools he’s given. The large majority of Coriolanus is shot documentary style, something that works wonders when it comes to bridging the gap between the material and those who have a tough time accessing Shakespeare’s writing.

Coriolanus’ sole fault is also a bit of an asset. This is a wildly intriguing adaptation attempt and while at times it seems only right that the dialogue is strictly in Shakespearean tongue, you also can’t help but to wish the banter was updated along with the setting. Coriolanus is a notably well made film, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accessible.

Technical: A-

Acting: A

Story: B+

Overall: B+

By Perri Nemiroff

Coriolanus Poster
Coriolanus Poster

By Perri Nemiroff

Film producer and director best known for her work in movies such as FaceTime, Trevor, and The Professor. She has worked as an online movie blogger and reporter for sites such as CinemaBlend.com, ComingSoon.net, Shockya, and MTV's Movies Blog.

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