Ralph Fiennes chews through William Shakespeare's dialogue in Coriolanus, a modern wartime update of one of the playwright's lesser-known works. Fiennes, who portrays Caius Martius Coriolanus and also directs the film, works from a script by John Logan, who expertly streamlines Shakespeare's complicated dialogue to fit the modern setting. Coriolanus despises the common man he has spent his life protecting, and is banned from Rome following an uprising of the people. Coriolanus then joins rebel and former enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and plots to overthrow the government. Coriolanus is an actor's paradise, and Fiennes and Butler, along with Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave, give stage-worthy performances in this unique drama.
In "A Place Calling Itself Rome," General Martius - the name Coriolanus is ceremonial - and his handler, Senator Menenius (Cox), fight back the mobs of angry citizens who blame the Roman government for the lack of food. The general loves his country but not its people, especially Aufidius, who executes captured Roman soldiers without remorse. Coriolanus runs for Roman Consul at the behest of his mother, Volumnia (Redgrave), and Menenius, but the angry citizens label Coriolanus a corrupt arm of the government and exile him from Rome. After months of wandering alone, Coriolanus reaches Antium and joins Aufidius and the Volscians against Rome's leaders.
Fiennes previously played Coriolanus in a London stage production, and worked for several years to bring the story to the screen. The film is also Fiennes' directorial debut, and it proves a polished debut effort. Coriolanus is shot like a modern war epic, complete with intense gun battles and hand-to-hand combat. The first utterance of Shakespearian dialogue might have been jarring had it not worked so well. The core story is certainly relevant, and Coriolanus weaves through political strife as only Shakespeare can.
Fiennes gives a powerhouse performance, bellowing at an ungrateful Roman audience about his sacrifices and bowing at the feet of his powerful matriarch. Fiennes is capable of an intensity few other actors can reach, and he is believable as both a savior and destroyer of men. Butler is overshadowed by Fiennes, but gives a solid performance as Aufidius, embracing Coriolanus before scheming behind his back. Redgrave pulls the strings behind the scenes with grace and a resolve that simmers just below her exterior. When Coriolanus betrays his Roman allies, Volumnia joins Coriolanus' wife, Virgilia (Chastain), in chastising his weakness in a powerful show of parodiable deference. Redgrave is excellent, as is Chastain, who continues to work overtime with consistently impressive results.
My favorite adaptations of Shakespeare's work modernize their story - like Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet - and Coriolanus is an intense update of the very political play. Fiennes directs with a keen eye, trimming most of the fat from the play, and Coriolanus uses the highlights of Shakespeare's work to move its story forward. Fiennes, Butler and Redgrave all earn their theater badges, and Coriolanus is a decidedly unstuffy affair all around.
The Weinstein Company serves up Coriolanus on a single-layer disc, and the 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is fairly impressive. This is a gritty, down in the trenches experience, and the image is quite detailed. Texture is excellent, from the pores on Fiennes' bloody face to the trees in the Italian countryside. Black levels are decent, though they could be a hair darker. Coriolanus is highly stylized and includes many lower-resolution news reports and faux stock footage, but all the elements blend together nicely. There is quite a bit of film grain left in the image, and only occasionally did I notice noise and banding.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is strong, too. The opening minutes of Coriolanus are filled with flying bullets and explosions, and the track is appropriately immersive. Gunfire explodes from the rear speakers, and bomb blasts rumble the subwoofer. Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand, and ambient effects - like crowd noise and shouting politicians - roll out of the surround and rear speakers. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Coriolanus is a two-disc set that includes the Blu-ray and a DVD copy of the film. The discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case with some poorly Photoshopped cover art. The extras are kind of skimpy, but the Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Ralph Fiennes is worth checking out. Fiennes is obviously very familiar with the source material, and his excitement and passion for the project is evident. Fiennes discusses adapting the play, directing and acting simultaneously, and finding the rest of the cast. The only other extra is The Making of Coriolanus (5:38/SD), a short, EPK-style featurette that barely scrapes the surface of the production.
Ralph Fiennes is both terrifying and pitiable as Caius Martius Coriolanus, a general exiled from Rome who joins the camp of his enemy to enact revenge on the government that betrayed him. Fiennes directs Coriolanus, an update of William Shakespeare's political play, and cuts the fat from the production, creating a tense, modern war film. Supporting actors Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox and Jessica Chastain are similarly excellent, and Coriolanus is a true thespian's paradise. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.