Film Review – Coriolanus

Coriolanus (MA)

Directed by: Ralph Fiennes

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright


Audiences might get a little bit of a surprise when they go and see Coriolanus. The characters kind of talk funny. Writer John Logan and director Ralph Fiennes (in his directorial debut) have modernised one of William Shakespeare’s plays but kept the original dialogue a la Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. But, hey, if teens can decipher the language in a hotted up version of the tragic tale of two starry-eyed lovers and make it a hit, then others shouldn’t have a problem here.

Decorated war hero Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) returns home to Rome after serving a tour which involved another battle with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Upon his return, he receives a warm welcome from his doting mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and worried wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), and the encouragement to run for consul in light of his military achievements.

With so much social unrest on the streets – there is constant rioting – Coriolanus could be the light at the end of the tunnel for these people and restore order. However, when he refuses to pander to those in the lower socio-economic demographic and his chances his chances of reconciliation are sabotaged by political rivals, things begin to heat up.

Not feeling the respect he thinks he deserves, he turns his back on his family, Rome and its citizens. Coriolanus even takes steps, such as striking up an unlikely alliance, to exact revenge on those that disrespected him. So deep is his rage that it does not matter to him which innocent people, like his family, might get caught up in the middle of it.

Without prior knowledge of the play (sorry high school English Lit, my 17-year-old self did not have the attention span for it) or the production history of the film, it was at first jarring hearing that ye olde dialogue on the soundtrack while modern warfare played on the screen. But once you move past that initial surprise, you will begin to appreciate the language.

The language is much more eloquent and rich than any most Hollywood scribes could conjure from scratch. So much is said in one sentence. Sure the monologues go on longer, but you get much more character development and nuance. I shudder to think what the dialogue would sound like had it been updated. So many teeth grinding clichés, I would be willing to bet.

Coriolanus gives Fiennes and Redgrave (particularly the lately underused 75-year-old legend) some meaty stuff to work with here. How many juicy roles are there for seniors citizens these days? Enough to count on one hand that it missing a few fingers. And Redgrave knocks it out of the park with her passionate performance. Butler is underwhelming and the capable Chastain is given little more to do than shoot the occasional concerned look, but she is an appealing presence.

But such imperfections are forgivable in such a compelling story. Those willing to brave the traditional dialogue will be in for a bloody, violent and powerful treat. Anyone who finds it a tough slog to get through the simplistic dialogue of an episode of Gossip Girl may want to steer clear.


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