Set in the modern world but teeming with Shakespearean dialogue and affectation, Coriolanus is actor Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut and it’s a bold and audacious freshmen effort. Though it may be somewhat inaccessible to those not familiar with the source material (one of the lesser known works from the bard), the film is strangely mesmerizing as it spills out its allegorical tale of government corruption, military power and family loyalty. Fiennes plays Caius Martius Coriolanus, the hero of Rome and a soldier that is simultaneously loved and loathed as a symbol of militaristic might and nationalistic pride, while Gerard Butler is Tullus Aufidius, his sworn enemy and the commander of the Volscian army.
As the film unfolds, the people of Rome are rioting in the streets over the withholding of grain from the ordinary citizens and they blame Coriolanus for this hunger-inducing turn of events. The titular hero is now vilified by his countrymen whom he feels are not worthy of the grain due to their lack of military service. Upon news that the Volscian army is on the march, Coriolanus leads his troops on a siege of the Volscian city of Corioles and winds up in brutal hand to hand combat with Aufidius, which is only cut short by a bomb blast that prematurely ends the fight. Upon his return to Rome he is hailed for his courage, but others in the Senate are determined to undermine and inspire a yet another revolt against him. His contempt for the idea of “popular rule” enrages him, causing his subsequent banishment from the city. Amazingly, while in exile he sets out to find Aufidius and the two become unlikely allies for a time, and eventually wind up fighting side by side as they prepare to mount an attack against Rome. Finally, Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia attempts to broker a peace that will ultimately lead to a tragic end for her son.
Coriolanus is a strange alchemy of old and new, mixing old-world language and shocking violence with a contemporary setting. With an Iambic Pentameter-laden script and a 122-minute run time, the movie gets convoluted at points and rambles on a bit longer than it should, but amazing performances from its prestigious cast including stunning turns by Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia and Brian Cox as Menenius make this a must see for movie buffs and Shakespeare fans alike.