While the original play took place in 500 B.C. in Rome, this adaptation places the story in a city that calls itself Rome in the modern era. Using televised news coverage, we learn that this Rome is a place of great strife. While the city is at war with the Volsicans led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), there is also great resentment amongst the common people against the elected authorities, especially over civil liberties and food. General Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is Romes most decorated war hero and a champion of the senate but thanks to his iron-fisted measures to reign in the civil protestors hes seen as quite the villain amongst the masses. On the advice of his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave) and close friend, Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) he tries garner support to get elected as Consul of the state. Though initially hes able to cash in on the goodwill generated by his illustrious military service, the shrewd political maneuverings of two tribunes, Sicinius (James Nesbitt) and Brutus (Paul Jesson) leads to much tarnishing of his image and ego alike. A very bitter Coriolanus chooses exile, leaving behind his family, only to join forces with his enemy, Aufidius, promising revenge & ruin upon Rome and its citizens.
Having not read the original play, I can only base my observations on the quality of writing displayed by the film. The character of Coriolanus though tragic in nature, gains little sympathy from me. I know he is a war hero who has sacrificed greatly for Rome and its citizens but his one-dimensional portrayal filled with unwarranted arrogance gives little to root for. On the other hand, Aufidius seems to be far more charismatic and in spite of his limited screen time, far more likable. The writing never really fleshes out the character beyond his proud, vain and socially inept demeanor and his relationships show flashes of rich complexity but arent accorded enough time to grow.
While the marketing push highlights the stand-off between Butler & Fiennes, in all honesty it pales in comparison to the multiple heavy-handed conversations between Coriolanus and Volumnia. Disappointingly Butler has a screen time of barely 15 minutes.
If old Shakespearean English is your cup of tea or maybe even your poison then you will have a real blast with Coriolanus. I on the other hand had a real tough time, understanding bits and pieces of some of those lengthy monologues at times.
Ralph Fiennes is at his sneering and snarling best, Butler is M.I.A. for much of the length of the movie, Redgrave is outstanding, Chastain is wasted, Cox plays a good guy for a change and Nesbitt is appropriately slimy in his portrayal of a shrewd politician. All of them speak old English well but thanks to the varying accents, you will face difficulty in picking up whats being said.
Coriolanus is a product Id call mis-marketing. Sold as a sort of action-drama, that would involve a heavy showdown between Butler and Fiennes; the movie is none of that. So dont go in expecting anything other than a lengthy, modern day Shakespearean adaptation, filled with actors speaking in old English attempting a tragedy before lunch and a few deaths after.