Damn, Shakespeare is pretty hardcore if you think about it.
The original story revolves around the destiny of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes), a contemptuous Roman general who attempts to run for the Senate but fails. When his ensuing rage leads him to be banished from Rome, he must team up with his lifelong enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to seek revenge and attack the city with his army.
Now, I will admit it, I am not the biggest fan when it comes to Billy Shakespeare. In school, whenever I had to read one of his plays, I put all my heart and soul into it, trying to understand what the hell he was saying, why it was being said, and wondering why everybody didn’t just say shit like, “Hello, how are you doing?”, instead of, “Howeth now areth browneth?”. Obviously that is not something they say in any of Shakespeare’s plays, but you get my drift. Basically, it’s freakin’ confusing sometimes to fully read and understand what Shakespeare plays are all about and 9 times out of 10, I would always find myself Spark Noting the shit out of his stuff. Sorry Billy, you’re an inspiration to writers all over the planet, but I don’t know what half of this shit means.
So, that’s essentially why I was not looking forward to this flick because not only is this all based on one of Shakespeare’s last political plays, but everybody on-screen also speaks in the Old English dialect as well. After seeing Romeo & Juliet and practically despising it, I was ready to just turn it off and see what new episodes of Parks & Rec that they had on Netflix, but I decided to stay with it and you know what? Thank god for that, because this is exactly what I needed to understand and appreciate Shakespeare more, in a world where it almost seems like he’s treated as old-news, as evidenced by the homework that I used to do on him.
The reason why everything makes so much more sense here in a powerful way, is because we get to see anything and everything that Shakespeare is talking about. The script is basically line-for-line from Shakespeare, even though it’s oddly-adapted from John Logan, and because of that, we get to visualize everything that’s happening in this play, which allows Ralph Fiennes to run rampant as director and make every setting and every action, fit perfectly in with all of the dialogue. What really surprised me was the world that Fiennes created for this play, and how the grittiness and dirtiness of this setting, sort of fit in well with what Shakespeare was trying to say all those hundred years ago, and also, what’s sort of going on in our world nowadays.
In a world where uprisings in Egypt seem to happen all the time, a world where more people in America are beginning to join the Occupy movement, and a world where nobody seems to be happy with the job they have and fight back against the government, it’s surprising how universal and timeless this play comes off as despite being written in 1605. Civil unrest has, and probably always will be around no matter the country/region, and that’s what Coriolanus shows off perfectly. The world we live in may have a couple of changes here and there, but there will always be evil, there will always be revolts, and there will always be problems between the people and the government and the way that Fiennes lets all of this play-out in an understandable way, without ever getting rid of the original text is something very powerful in terms of previous Shakespeare film-adaptations.
Fiennes does a great job in allowing this story to tell itself off through amazing scenes where it’s just dialogue and nothing else. The misleading trailer pretty much screwed everybody over by promising a crazy-amount of action and blood in the same vein as The Hurt Locker, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. There is, however, about 15 minutes worth of action but the rest of hour and 45 minutes, is just people straight-up chatting/yelling/talking/spitting about at one another, and as boring as that may sound, it’s not because it captures your eyes and engages you right from the start. That’s the great element that Fiennes brings to this source material and even had me clinching my pillow at numerous times by how tense it got with certain scenes. Seriously, this film is no joke in terms of Shakespeare and capturing the heart and soul of it, and that’s something we have to applaud Fiennes for, as a director that is.
As an actor, though, Fiennes deserves more applause because the guy is absolutely compelling from start-to-finish in this role and it’s almost un-like anything we have ever seen him do before. Fiennes’ career has been mostly all about him playing these normal-guy roles, but somehow branching out of them every once and awhile and giving us some crazy, shithead role like the one he had in In Bruges. That same role, is pretty much the same exact thing we get here but it’s a lot scarier because of how the character of Coriolanus just stands over everybody else in the film. When Corionalus first shows up, the guy silences a crowd of angry rioters, but not just by yelling and threatening them, he simply comes out, uses a small-voice, and tells them that they are useless in the world that he lives in, and he steps on them and their demands. Something that’s said like that, should totally assure you two things: 1.) this guy is a total dick, and 2.) holy shit, I should be scared of him.
That’s the initial feeling you first get when you see him, but it starts to change-up a bit as you start to see more and more layers peel off from Coriolanus and we realize that he’s just another flawed character in life, just like your and I. He kicks ass in war and we applaud him for that, but we know for damn sure that he can’t run a country; he’s all about pride and love for his country, but sure as hell doesn’t love the people that inhabit it; and he’s a guy who’s all about vengeance and seeking revenge on the country that banished him, but yet, would still kill his family if they got in the way. Coriolanus is not a very cut-and-dry character that could be determined as a good guy, or bad guy, actually nobody in this film could even be considered one, but having him at the fore-front of it all makes for one compelling piece of a character-study, and shows us exactly why Fiennes is the scariest freakin’ man on Earth, whenever he’s yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs. Doesn’t matter what he’s screaming about or how he’s screaming, it’s just that the fact that he is screaming, is what gets us.
However, Coriolanus isn’t the most vicious S.O.B. in the film, despite what I may have you think. No, the one who really runs shit in this whole show is actually his mother Volumnia, played by the great Vanessa Redgrave, who absolutely steals every scene she is in. Redgrave is one of those actresses that I hear about all of the time, but never have really been given the chance to go out and see what she does best but I think may have to change that now because she is powerful as hell here. Every time this old gal steps into a scene, you automatically think it’s going to be another one of those goofy, old ladies that acts crazy because that’s all she can do, but in reality, with this character, you feel scared because you know she’s got something to talk about and she is not going to go away unheard from it, either. It’s a surprise that Redgrave didn’t get a nomination for Best Supporting Actress here, considering she took over the hard-job of scaring everybody’s pants off, despite being 75-years old. Damn can that woman act!
Another performance I was very surprised by was Brian Cox as Coriolanus’ chief advisor, Menenius, but not just because the guy is good (which he always is), but because the guy isn’t another villainous role for him to play. Say what you will about Cox and what he does as a villain, but the guy did need a new change of pace for him and I’m glad he got it here and took total advantage of it all. The other performance that really took me by surprise was Gerard Butler as Coriolanus’ arch-enemy, Tullus Aufilius. For the longest time, Butler has been showing up in shitty rom-com after shitty rom-com, and it left me wondering when the next time was going to be when we were actually going to see this guy be back to Leonidas-style bad-assery. Thankfully, Fiennes was thinking the same thing and decided to give him a very juicy role that not only shows this guy’s physical-intimidation he holds over people, but his way of speaking too. I can’t put my finger on it, but that Scottish accent just makes every single line of dialogue all the more compelling when it’s spoken out of Butler’s mouth and it’s great to see him get something like this. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to last very long at all.
The lamest one out of the whole cast that really surprised me was actually Jessica Chastain as Coriolanus’ wife, because for some odd reason, she just doesn’t seem to fit very well at all with the way everybody is speaking. That’s not to say that Chastain isn’t good here, because she damn well is, it’s just that comes off as the weakest-link in terms of making the Old English sound natural, and not as if you are on-stage trying to over-exaggerate the feelings going on throughout your whole system. Still though, she’s good with what she does and that cannot be taken away from her, even though it sounds like I sort of am taking it away from her. Oh well, I’m a dick.
My other complaint with this film that took me away from giving it a full 9/10, is that every time they would focus on a television discussion, it came off as corny and really unrealistic. I get that everybody’s supposed to be talking in the Old English-way, but whenever the news hosts would come on and start speaking in that tongue, it just bothered me and made me feel like I was almost watching a spoof of a Shakespeare adaptation. Then again, it’s another minor quibble from me and there’s plenty more I could go into detail about, but I’m not because I actually enjoyed this one more than I expected. That’s for damn sure.
Consensus: Coriolanus may have some wandering off as soon as they hear the Old English dialogue still kept in-tact, but for those who stay, will be open to a powerful, compelling, and hard-hitting character-study unlike any other Shakespeare adaptation ever that shows you not only can Shakespeare’s themes still be relevant today, but they sort of go along with what’s happening in our world and with our society.