Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is the - temporary - hero of Rome, a great soldier but a man of inflexible self-belief who despises the people. He comes close to being made a Consul but his extreme views ignite a riot. Manipulated and out-maneuvered by politicians and even his own mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), despite being proclaimed Coriolanus in honour of a recent victory at Corioles for Rome, he is soon banished by popular demand. Nursing his spite, Coriolanus offers his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) the choice of either his services to help avenge Rome - or his life. Coriolanus and Aufidius march on Rome intending to destroy the city, but Volumnia appeals to her son and he has to make a choice between his mother and his sworn enemy-turned partner.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a blood-and-gutsy adaptation of a bloody and gut-wrenching tragedy by Shakespeare, in which the arrogance and snobbery of powerful men is put to the moral sword. Director and co-star Fiennes has chiseled the play into a contemporary setting, not unlike Baz Luhrmann did with Romeo + Juliet, and just about as inventively.
For one thing, I never expected to see a film in which Fiennes co-stars with Butler. No disrespect, but Butler has been making films that have the grunt machismo of films, yes, like this one, but without the pedigree of the writing.
The setting is an unidentified part of what is contemporary Eastern Europe (it was shot in Serbia) where the downtrodden subjects of the Roman Empire have formed a guerilla army under Aufidius (Butler). The production design is exceptional, ranging from the way modern media coverage techniques are applied to bring the film right into the language of today's politics, to the contrast between the poor villages and the urban comforts of the powerful.
Much of this will resonate with just about any audience; the Bard's language is well used, although Butler's burr makes it a tad challenging.
We meet Caius Martius (Fiennes) when he is the - temporary - hero of Rome, having been proclaimed Coriolanus in honour of a recent victory for Rome, at Corioles. He is a great soldier but also a man of inflexible self-belief who deep down despises the common people. He comes close to being made a Consul - with its attendant powers -but his extreme views ignite a riot.
Manipulated and out-maneuvered by politicians and even his own mother Volumnia (Redgrave), he is soon banished by popular demand. Nursing his spite and eager for vengeance, Coriolanus tracks down his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius, and in a bloody confrontation offers him a choice: be killed or join Coriolanus in his revenge plan. The joint Coriolanus / Aufidius army marches on Rome intending to destroy the city, but Volumnia appeals to her son and he has to make a choice between his mother and his sworn enemy-turned partner, who is determined to punish the city that ignored him.
The deep personal enmity between Aufidius and Caius Martius (Fiennes) provides the engine of the drama, and what is at stake in the broader picture is the power to rule in Rome, which is no small thing when it was the centre of an Empire.
The biggest challenge for the filmmakers was maintaining the contemporary relevance alongside the Shakespearean language - and they achieved this to a great extent. Some of the dialogue is lost in the mix, despite exceptional performances from a superb cast. But we never miss the thrust of the story.
Fiennes himself is volcanic as Coriolanus; Butler is measured and effective, while the major supports, from Cox and Redgrave to Chastain and Nesbitt are all faultless and credible.
Fiennes has created a gripping tone and his focus is beautifully controlled. The blend of personal conflict and political ambition is riveting, and the brawny battle scenes are equal to Hollywood's most expensive efforts.
John Logan's inspired adaptation of Coriolanus demonstrates the ongoing relevance of the underlying work for its observation of human nature and its ability to move us is a sign of its success.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt, Lubna Azabel, Ashraf Barhom
PRODUCER: Ralph Fiennes, John Logan, Gabrielle Tana, Julia Taylor-Stanley, Colin Vaines
DIRECTOR: Ralph Fiennes
SCRIPT: John Logan (play by Wm Shakespeare)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Barry Ackroyd
EDITOR: Nicolas Gaster
MUSIC: Ilan Eshkeri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Ricky Eyres
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 8, 2012