War hero, Coriolanus, never held his tongue when it came to his opinion of the common people of his land, and so as a tool of the government was seen as an enemy of the people, but after a great victory in defending Rome from the hated Volscians and their leader, Aufidius, Coriolanus is elected as leader of the republic. Fearing he may turn to the ways of tyranny, members of the senate turn the common people against Coriolanus once more and have him banished from the land. Filled with rage, Coriolanus joins forces with his sworn enemy, Aufidius, and leads his army in the conquest of Rome.
In 1996, Baz Luhrmann pretty much solidified his career as a cutting edge director when he did a literal translation of Romeo and Juliet, transposing it into contemporary times and filling it to the brim with respected and attractive young actors. If the point of the film was to illustrate to a new generation that Shakespeare was still relevant, then it was a raging success, though usually wouldn’t be something chosen for the attentions of a website like Fanboy Confidential.
Coriolanus, on the other hand, though one of Shakespeare’s slightly lesser known plays, in context, is very much the kind of thing that us geeks can get our teeth in to. It has war and the related violence, arch rivals, it’s an underdog/first time director/low budget affair and has a lead character that is an outright badass.
The first time director at hand is none other than Ralph Fiennes, who also stars as the lead, and it must be said, does a phenomenal job on both counts. His time on film sets has obviously served him well, as the production and performances express a grandeur that belies the modest £5 million that the film was made for. Indeed, the battle sequences at the front end of the film are the equal to a film with ten times the budget.
One assumes to this end, obscure, almost surreal locations have been chosen to represent what is named as Rome within the dialogue. It works well and shows the kind of vision that must surely secure Fiennes further work as a director, with the evidence suggesting that we may have our next Kenneth Branagh.
As with Romeo and Juliet, the original dialogue has been kept fully intact, but don’t let that put you off by any means, the performances by the excellent cast are so expressive that even if you are unable to adjust the dialogue into a contemporary parlance, you’ll still understand what is happening within the story as well as the motivations of the characters. And what a cast it is, amongst the talent includes Brian Cox as Menenius, Gerard Butler as Aufidius and James Nesbitt as Sicinius, Fiennes again getting plenty of value out of his money.
The story, as it is, is a perfect example of the fact that even if vocabulary may change over the years, people never really do. Though it is the epitome of presumption for a reviewer to question Shakespeare’s writing, as a film, the pacing could be a little more even, with all the war scenes playing out in the first act, you find yourself yearning for more come the third act, but they never arrive. This could, however, be put down to the screenplay and the lack of budget, as there is ample opportunity for action during the invasion of Rome, but is only referred to in news footage.
That besides, Coriolanus is faithful, accessible, entertaining and every bit as tragic as The Bard could have hoped for.
B+ grade – for storytelling
B grade – for direction
B grade – for acting
Overall grade – B+
Coriolanus was released on January 20th 2012 in the UK, and has a limited release across the rest of the world throughout the rest of January and February.
Watch the trailer.