The Austin Chronicle


Rated R, 122 min. Directed by Ralph Fiennes. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbitt.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 2, 2012

Ralph Fiennes couldn't have picked a better Shakespeare play to adapt for his directorial debut, seeing as how it deals timelessly with war, a fickle and ill-informed populace, the emotional hazards and other pitfalls of serving one's country, the ghastly duplicity necessary to succeed in politics, and last but most assuredly not least, the majesty of Vanessa Redgrave, who remains as endlessly watchable as the Bard's own work.

Speaking of which, I'm new to this particular play, but as adapted for the screen, Fiennes updates the original's Roman costumes with modern dress (allowing for subtextual commentary on any number of current military endeavors) while keeping Shakespeare's olde English intact – a clever gambit that was similarly deployed in Julie Taymor's hyperambitions Titus a decade-plus back. John Logan (Gladiator), who scripted the adaptation, focuses with laser intensity on the all-too-relevant topic of what happens to soldiers once the wars have concluded. In the case of Gen. Caius Martius, aka Coriolanus (Fiennes), that means having to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous wartime politics. Pushed by his fearsome, dictatorial mother, Volumnia (Redgrave, perfectly cast), toward playing politics with his 27 scars and glorious record in battle, Coriolanus, who is a soldier's soldier if ever there was one, dreads having to serve as a consul, a position to which he has been elevated thanks to his battlefied prowess. Coriolanus inwardly loathes the hypocrisies of the plebeians and, saying as much, is banished from this modern-day Rome (Fiennes chose to shoot in Serbia, which nicely fits the film's doomy, shell-shocked feel). Into the hinterlands he goes, meeting up with his sworn enemy, Butler's brash and bloody Tullus Aufidius. Carnage ensues.

Immensely entertaining, Coriolanus is chock-full o' gore and the contemporary trappings of a man and a land divided, both from without and from within. Coriolanus is, in the end, a prideful savage, but unlike his real-world counterparts, he seems to know, after all, what he's doing.

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