Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Coriolanus (2011)

William Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays, but the same few are picked for adaptation to the silver screen. We’ve seen Hamlet a million times, Romeo and Juliet gets made every decade or so. Even Julius Creaser seems to be a favorite. But outside of some TV presentations, Coriolanus has never been on the big screen, until Ralph Fiennes helmed his version.

Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a modern soldier in a country that calls itself Rome. His duty is to the aristocratic senate. He is a ruthless man, confident in his abilities, and scornful of anyone who does not measure up to his standards. But Martius is as good as he claims, and soon defeats Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) and his army of Volscians in the city of Corioles. After his amazing victory Martius is given the title Coriolanus, and asked to stand as consul.

Unfortunately he has many political enemies, and they know just how to play him. Soon Coriolanus finds himself the object of scorn and hate by the people of Rome, no matter how valiant he is in battle. He spurns the advice of his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and an old friend and senator Menenius (Brian Cox). After an eruption of hateful speech Coriolanus is banished from Rome. But the man is not broken, not even close. He seeks out his enemy Tullus and joins forces with the Volscians. Coriolanus has a new goal in life, to watch Rome and all her people burn.

Good Points:
  • The setting of the play is effectively modernized
  • Includes powerful performances by Fiennes and Redgrave
  • Moves at a brisk pace 

Bad Points:
  • Not much of a catharsis for a very unlikable lead character
  • The musical score is distracting at times
  • Purists will not appreciate the edits and modernization of the play

A really admirable effort all told. It feels and moves like a war film in the first half, and then turns into a dark character study in the second half. The surreal dialogue dealing with ancient Rome merges with some really clever modernizations of the setting. The performances are all passionate and powerful Even Gerard Butler (who I can take or leave on most occasions) was really good. My issues with the character come from the play itself, not the performances. Coriolanus is not a sympathetic man at all. But in a way, that is the whole point. If you don’t mind your Shakespeare being modernized and edited, this is a very good adaptation.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 2
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


  1. Presenting Shakespeare in a way relatable (i.e. commercial) to a modern film audience is always a challenge. (Orson Welles, with his oddly winsome arrogance, completely rewrote him, piecing together bits of 5 plays for "Chimes at Midnight.") Resetting the time frame sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. (Let's not even talk about adaptations such as the kung fu Romeo Must Die.) Richard III (1995) with Ian McKellan as a 1930s fascist-style leader worked amazingly well. I haven't seen the 2008 one set in Hollywood, but the idea is clever -- maybe too clever. I was aware of this version of Coriolanus but never saw it. Thanks for the reminder and the thumbs up.

    1. Yeah I'm a bit iffy on changing the period for the plays as well. I saw a version of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart. The acting was solid, but the fact that they placed the play in a cold war Soviet Bloc setting must have looked good on paper. But it was very distracting in the end. Macbeth really requires the characters to get their hands bloody - literally. Shooting Duncan just doesn't cut the mustard.

      But this version of "Coriolanus" worked well. There were some very clever touches on how the integrated the debates in the forum as debates for a news show. Or how certain Republic iconography ended up appearing in various guises throughout the film. Worth checking out.

  2. I was not aware of Coriolanus, the play or the movie. Sometimes these modernizations of Shakespeare don't work for me, though your review has intrigued me, so I might give it a try.

    As far as Shakespeare, I enjoyed Henry V--Kenneth Branagh's masterpiece, Looking for Richard--Al Pacino's semidocumentary on Richard III, Ran--an unusual retelling by Kurasawa of King Lear, and I enjoyed Zeffirelli's '68 version of Romeo & Juliet. Nearly forgot--Forbidden Planet--retelling The Tempest.

    Heck, might as well include, Shakespeare in Love & I kind of like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern too. And speaking of Rome, if you haven't checked out that series called Rome, it was really cool.

    1. Yeah for the most part I really enjoy Branagh's work. Even his massive version of "Hamlet" mostly works. "Love's Labours Lost"... well that was a neat experiment, but it never came together. That's a tough play to make work for a modern audience anyway. His version of "Much Ado About Nothing" is one of my favorite Shakespeare adaptations. Great stuff. I also thought he was an excellent Iago in the 1990s "Othello". And like you said, "Henry V" is really impressive.

      Whoo hoo, I enjoyed "Looking for Richard" too. Haven't seen that in years. Need to check it out again. Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" is the standard for that story for me. Wonderful romantic music in that film my Rota - one of the best scores for a Shakespeare adaptation: period. "Forbidden Planet" is a lot of fun.

      "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead"is one of my favorites too. A fun double feature with the MST3K attack of "Hamlet".

      As for "Rome". Love that series. Been a while since I've seen it, but I'm thinking I might give it another watch this summer.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Very interested in this film Roman. Glad to see you cover it. A trailer caught my attention, but your endorsement bolsters the case.

    1. Definitely give it a try. Even if the modernization doesn't quite click for you, the acting is very good and the pacing is perfect.