'Coriolanus' a fine example of the Bard on film 

click to enlarge Doing Shakespeare justice: Ralph Fiennes is excellent as the title character in “Coriolanus.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Doing Shakespeare justice: Ralph Fiennes is excellent as the title character in “Coriolanus.”

Actor and now director Ralph Fiennes teams up with ever-reliable story man William Shakespeare in “Coriolanus,” a current-times rendition of the bard’s warrior tragedy. Assisted by “Hugo” and “Aviator” screenwriter John Logan and a prestige cast, Fiennes delivers an impressive directorial debut and a relevant addition to the Shakespeare-on-film catalog.

Fiennes and Logan adapted Shakespeare’s play into a two-hour combination of Greek tragedy and contemporary action adventure. The setting has become "a place calling itself Rome.” Soldiers wearing fatigues shed blood in war-torn streets. Politicians in suits create their own brutality in senatorial rooms.

Fiennes plays Gen. Caius Martius Coriolanus, an extraordinary warrior who, after heroically defeating the Volscian army, is deemed electable and persuaded by his formidable, patriotic mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), to campaign for consul.

Proud, uncompromising and refusing to mask his scorn for the common folk, he proves disastrous in the civil arena. Additionally sunk by two machinating tribunes (James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson), he gets banished from Rome.

In retaliation, he joins with his sworn enemy, the Volscian warrior Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to bring down his former homeland.

Featuring one of Shakespeare’s most unsympathetic protagonists, “Coriolanus” hasn’t reached the big screen before, and Fiennes doesn’t  make the tragedy, as Coriolanus down-slides from man to monster, resonate.

Still, the film is ambitious, intelligent and absorbing. Themes from the play – including the threat that military mindsets pose to democracy – come across. Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd gives the violence a tone of urgency. The filmmakers use modern trimmings such as media reportage to fill the storytelling gaps created by the condensation of Shakespeare’s text.

Most crucially, Fiennes never lets action upstage character, and he’s chosen actors who do Shakespeare justice, himself included. His head-shaven, battle-scarred, fatally flawed Coriolanus is a force of warrior conviction.

Should-have-been-Oscar-nominated Redgrave is stratospherically splendid as the hawkish, fearsome Volumnia. Also noteworthy is Brian Cox as Menenius, Coriolanus’ mentor and a voice of reason.

Butler doesn’t equal Fiennes for dramatic heft, but he’s on the right wavelength. Jessica Chastain needs more to do in the role of Coriolanus’ wife.

Movie review

Coriolanus ★★★

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave
Written by John Logan
Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Rated R
Running time 2 hours 2 minutes

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Anita Katz

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