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Coriolanus—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
January 20, 2012 1:05 AM
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Brian Cox and Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus
Larry D. Horricks – The Weinstein Company

I don’t know what Shakespeare purists will make of Coriolanus, but as cinematic storytelling it’s awfully impressive: a muscular, contemporary reading of the play, deftly abridged and adapted by the prolific John Logan, who also wrote Hugo and Rango this year. The primary hero, on screen and off, is Ralph Fiennes, who not only makes a formidable directing debut but delivers a ferocious (and commanding) performance in the leading role.

Although the wardrobe is modern, and the film was shot in Serbia, the setting is ancient Rome, where a fearsome warrior named Caius Martius returns from battle, having vanquished his sworn enemy Aufidius. He is awarded the name Coriolanus and hailed as a hero, but the rabble in the streets don’t share that view—as he denied them sustenance during wartime—and he has wily enemies within the Roman congress who plot his downfall.

Fiennes directing Vanessa Redgrave in 'Coriolanus'.
Larry D. Horricks – The Weinstein Company Fiennes directing Vanessa Redgrave in 'Coriolanus'.

One need not comprehend every utterance or speech to understand the unfolding plot: the machinations are as clear as vivid, bloody battle scenes. (It may take a little time to understand every turn of the plot, but they all reveal themselves.) Bold performances by Vanessa Redgrave, as Coriolanus’ mother, Gerard Butler, as Aufidius, Brian Cox, as a political peacemaker, and James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson, as the schemers out to sabotage Coriolanus, support Fiennes’ towering work. Shakespeare’s words flow from him like a mountain stream; the words are meaningful but the delivery seems effortless. (Jessica Chastain is also good, as the warrior’s wife, but her screen time is relatively brief.)

Coriolanus isn’t light entertainment, but its relevance, and resonance, may come as a surprise to viewers who don’t normally seek out the works of the Bard. The first-time director and his cinematographer, Barry Ackroyd, imbue the film with incredible energy and power. Like Coriolanus, Fiennes is a force to be reckoned with.

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  • Mark Chandler | June 18, 2012 12:41 PMReply

    A real flop. We rented this movie thinking it was a Shakespearian play and found that the modern setting does not work. We could not suspend disbelief to join the action because the violent juxtaposition of the modern clothing, weapons, machines, and living quarters thrust upon the old english screen play was just too unbelievable. NO ONE wearing those clothes or shooting a modern military rifle ever speaks with such overburdened flowery prose. No one. Ever. Came of as silly, completely unbelievable, and in the middle, un-watchable. Save your money and your time and get some real Shakespeare that is true to the bards original vision. Still fan of Mr. Irons, but bury this work of his.

  • Peter Wolf | January 22, 2012 12:09 AMReply

    I saw this movie today. To call it intense is an understatement. Fiennes and Redgrave are pure excellence, the Shakespeare rolling off their lips like it's everyday language for them. Brian Cox also stands out. What makes the movie work, aside from the usual mesermizing screen presence of Fiennes, is how well it sets up each scene to perfectly match the dialogue. This is important since it helps viewers understand what the actors are conveying despite the 400 year old Shakespearian english. This, combined with the clarity of the actors speech, makes following the story easy.
    While I agree that placing the story in modern times creates a powerful relevance, I don't believe that would have suffered had director Fiennes placed it in the age of the Roman Republic. In fact some parts of the story would have been more relevant had he done so . For example, the confrontation between Martius and his mother, wife and child at the end of the film is a more plausible interaction when set in a milieu of intense family loyalties. Watching his mother, wife and child on their knees praying to him while hardened killers standby with AK-47's, stretched modern credulity. Nevertheless, the overall film is a triumph of acting and editing. Hard to believe this is a first directing effort for Fiennes.

  • Jason | January 21, 2012 7:24 AMReply

    I've been looking forward to this film since I heard it announced. Can't wait to see it!

  • Jason | January 21, 2012 7:24 AMReply

    I've been looking forward to this film since I heard it announced. Can't wait to see it!

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