Irrefutable proof that, at least in this circumstance, one can indeed teach an old dog new tricks. Provided of course that the dog is none other than the immaculate Bard, and the teacher, Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes, something that has worn and withered with time, can be new once again. Given, the fact this duo isn’t easy to unite makes “Coriolanus” all the much more of a spectacular achievement. Blending the subtle dialogue and intellectuality of its source material with heart-pounding action sequences and visceral performances. “Coriolanus” is an all-around dramatic-thriller and an honest adaptation of a rather under-appreciated and controversial work from Shakespeare. The directorial debut of the aforementioned Ralph Fiennes, who also stars in the title role. “Coriolanus” is a masterful inception for Fiennes, who has an experienced and vastly talented cast to assist in his transition.
In modern-day Rome, riots are in progress during an on-going conflict with the neighbouring city Volsci. Caius Martius (Fiennes) is a Roman general whom the people blame for the city’s problems. Martius has a rather low-opinion of regular citizens and the population does not take kindly to his behaviour. After gathering reinforcements when most of his unit had been killed in an attempt to siege the Volscian city of Corioles, Martius manages to conquer the city. Upon inflicting serious wounds to his mortal enemy Aufidius (Butler), Martius and his crew return home. Soon, Martius easily wins the Roman Senate, but a few are weary of his recent plunge into politics, thinking he will seize all power for himself. Upon convincing the city to ban Martius, Caius takes up arms with his mortal enemy and swears revenge against his home.
Although the film’s light, albeit deliberate pace becomes somewhat of a distraction, this minor fault is easily disparaged. It isn’t so much that the film itself is slow moving, it’s the distance between scenes of significance and importance that’s discouraging. Which is a common complaint of the source material and should not be directly attributed to a lack of experience or talent behind the camera on behalf of Ralph Fiennes. While it is relatively difficult to modernize a play, Fiennes handles it with precision, depth, and swiftness. What ultimately makes “Coriolanus” so utterly appealing is its visually striking nature and unfathomably powerful performances, that alone make the film worth the watch. However, if you’re one of those people who cannot stand Shakespearean language, steer clear of “Coriolanus.” While the content and characters may have been brought up to speed in this current adaption, the dialogue remains untouched.
The imagery, violence, and historical significance is good and all. Yet, what really sets “Coriolanus” apart is its incredible cast and their entrancing and astoundingly powerful performances. “Coriolanus” stars Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, and of course, Ralph Fiennes. Redgrave and Cox, two hugely underrated and underused performers, do their best to steal the show from Fiennes, but predictably fail. Make no mistake, this is not an insult, rather praise and kudos to the strength and persistence of their performances. Butler, who until this film tread disappointing waters, has seemingly surfaced and evidently makes a strong case for his revival, doing a respectable job opposite of Fiennes. Chastain is as radiant, mesmerizing, and stern as ever. Bursting forth with a heartbreaking and angst filled take on the firmly willed wife of Coriolanus. As for Fiennes, what can one say? He is as exuberant, intimidating, and seductive as ever. Which is all the more amazing considering he is pulling double duty.
Essentially, what you end up with is a pure and fresh take on a text with immense historical significance. Performed with monstrous respect and power, containing sequences exploding with nerve-tingling action, and an atmosphere so thick it chokes you up. “Coriolanus” is a must see for Shakespeare fans, performance enthusiasts, and die-hard cinephiles everywhere.
On a personal side-note, the first time I saw this film was at TIFF, its North American debut. Fiennes, Cox, Chastain, Redgrave, and Butler were in attendance and it was bewildering. I’ve rarely ever been star-struck, but seeing this cast in person knocked me off my feet. I literally stood right besides Ralph Fiennes, I did my best not to cry with excitement.
Coriolanus: 8 out of 10.