CORIOLANUS (director: Ralph Fiennes; screenwriter: John Logan/from the play by William Shakespeare; cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd; editor: Nic Gaster; music: Ilan Eshkeri; cast: Ralph Fiennes (Caius Martius Coriolanus), Gerard Butler (Tullus Aufidius), Brian Cox (Menenius), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Jessica Chastain (Virgilia), John Kani (General Cominius), James Nesbitt (Tribune Brutus), Paul Jesson (Tribune Sicinius), Lubna Azabal (Tamora),Ashraf Barhom (Cassius); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ralph Fiennes/John Logan/Gabrielle Tana/Colin Vaines/Julia Taylor-Stanley; Weinstein Company; 2011)

It’s an odd stew, that never smells quite right.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directing debut by Ralph Fiennes is largely a misstep. In adapting to film this minor Shakespeare tragedy from four hundred years ago, Fiennes can never show why his unsympathetic rigid patriotic Roman general protagonist was a great man or why we should care about such a despicable tyrant’s fall from power. Fiennes also stars and is a co-producer. Writer John Logan transports Shakespeare to modern-warfare times, and by using handheld cameras to paint a faux-documentary style of a battlefield aims to reach out to inculcate in modern times the Bard’s thinking in matters of class-warfare, duty to country, popular uprisings, valor in battle, the corruption of power and the parts played by civilian politicians and military leaders in conducting war and carrying out political policies. The cast speak Shakespearean in iambic pentameter, while the visuals reflect modern skirmishes of tanks in the street, CNN TV coverage and soldiers armed with the latest in military hardware going into battle. It’s an odd stew, that never smells quite right. It’s also boring, humorless and grating in its hysterical intensity.

The narrative focuses on the powerful Roman general Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), who conquers the city of Corioles, a stronghold of his Rome’s rival country of Volscian, and subjects its working-class population to mistreatment. When they riot for food because of their hunger, the General has his overwhelming army crush the rioters.

The next victorious conflict for the General is with the border state rival led by the brave Volscian rebel leader Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), who tries to retaliate. Though faced with growing unrest by the populace at home, the apolitical General is promoted to a consulship and takes the titular name of Coriolanus. Thereby the mighty brave warrior Martius vents his feelings of contempt for the masses in his harsh arrogant actions and public rants, even though counseled by his wise political friend Menenius (Brian Cox), loyal wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), and influential scheming mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) not to go down that political road with such a lack of guile. Mom is a reason given for her son being so warped. This utter disdain for the common people and being ill-suited to be a politician, will bring about Martius’s downfall.

Banished by Rome for his intransigence to the masses, Martius now allies with Tullus to fight Rome in revenge. Branded a traitor and his forces defeated in battle, Martius chooses suicide by the hands of Tullus as a way of not suffering from further humiliation.

The exhausting film’s ambitious aim was for us to see the raging battles through the eyes of the contemporary media (the way we now get the news) and note how we get a washed down feed on the news. It also depicts that there is a crisis of leadership in the world, and the bleak film tells us it’s a tragedy war and political foul-ups never stop. But because it was so lackluster, it never has as much an impact on film in telling about America’s recent failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as maybe the creators thought when put to paper and green-lighted for production.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”