Brian Cox as Menenius, Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius and John Kani as General Cominius


Film Review: Coriolanus

Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a bold, modern adaptation of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy.

published Thursday, March 1, 2012
1 comment

Veteran actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with a fearless adaptation of William Shakespeare's devastating take on cults of personality, Coriolanus. In a bold step, Fiennes has abandoned the story's original ancient Roman setting in favor of "a place called Rome" that resembles a modern warzone, keeping the original dialogue and utilizing modern trappings and stark photography to open the story to contemporary audiences. It's a brave choice, one that gives added resonance to a classic that is largely unfamiliar to current audiences.

Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a hard-boiled soldier equally loved and feared by the people of Rome. The city is at war with the Volscians, led by Martius' bitter rival Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). The Volscians are defeated in a violent confrontation in the city of Corioles, one that ends with an unfinished duel to the death between Martius and Aufidius. Martius returns triumphantly to Rome where the Senate gives him the honorific title of "Coriolanus" and rewards him with a lofty political office for which his is thoroughly unqualified. All he has to do is win the votes of the common people.

It's that last little bit that proves to be Martius' undoing. He's a beast on the battlefield, but thoroughly unfit for politics. Before his victory against the Volscians, Martius had brutally suppressed food riots in Rome, and throughout his career his disgust with the common people and there petty squabbles had always been thinly veiled. That contempt boils over during his political campaign, culminating with a public outburst that ends his career. He is exiled from Rome, condemned to never see his ambitious mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), trophy wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), or young son (Harry Finn) again. A vengeful Martius forges an alliance with Aufidius and wage war on Rome.

The revised setting enhances Coriolanus, giving viewers a point of reference to which it can relate. The opening monologue of Martius' aide-de-camp Menenius (Brian Cox) is delivered at a press conference, cable news talking heads replace the traditional greek chorus, and the scenes of chaotic urban warfare echo what has become common fare on the nightly news -- and it all lends the material an eerie prescience.

As is usually the case with a film version of one of the Bard's plays, much is trimmed from Coriolanus in order to shoehorn it into a two-hour running time; veteran playwright and screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo) does an admirable job, but it's hard to shake the feeling that some important details were lost. The pace never falters though, sweeping the viewer along, though occasionally moving too swiftly to let the story unfold on its own.

Fiennes occasionally plays to the rafters as Martius, a dog of war who should've been kept on a shorter leash, but never loses control of the character. Fiennes played Martius on the London stage in 2000, and wears him like a second skin. He makes Martius' arrogance palpable, and when he unforgettably upbraids Aufidius in the film's climax he spits the word "boy" with such vitriol that it becomes the most venomous of insults.

Despite the editing to the story, Butler and Cox are able to squeeze quite a bit from their respective roles, but Chastain seems defeated by the material and never fully brings Virgilia to life.

Ultimately it is Redgrave who dominates with one of her best performances in recent years. She brings clout and regality to Volumnia, the manipulative and possessive mother who dooms her son in her attempt to elevate him. In bringing the setting forward, Fiennes wisely chose cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) and shot on location in Serbia. The grey skies and war-blasted urban landscapes of the alterna-Rome they create deftly mirror the desolation of Martius' soul.

Coriolanus is rated R (for bloody violence) and runs 122 minutes. It opens Friday, March 2 and the Landmark Magnolia in Dallas.


 Thanks For Reading


Judy Soriano writes:
Thursday, March 8 at 8:26AM

A helpful review. I am a fan of Ralph Fiennes, a fine actor who seems to seek out challenging roles. I will write this down as a movie to see.

View the Article Slideshow
Click or Swipe to close
Film Review: Coriolanus
Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in a bold, modern adaptation of Shakespeare's bloody tragedy.
by Gary Dowell

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :