Movie Review: Coriolanus
Rating: R (contains adult themes and activities, strong language, nudity, sexual references and violence)
Length: 122 minutes
Release Date: December 22, 2011
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Stars: 4 out of 5
Caius Martius was once a great Roman soldier and a man of unbending confidence who fearlessly protected the Roman people. However, in a time when Rome was starving, his hatred and extreme views regarding his fellow citizens ignited a riot that left Rome a bloody mess. Manipulated and duped by his mother and his fellow Roman politicians, Caius was banished from his home. This cold-hearted betrayal by the only people he trusted prompted him to offer his life and his services to his enemy, Tullus Aufidius.
Ralph Fiennes ("Clash of the Titans," "Wrath of the Titans") makes a brilliant directorial debut with the film "Coriolanus," a tale that is based on the story of the same name written by William Shakespeare. Fiennes also stars in the film as the protagonist, Caius Martius, who is a Roman general that is both celebrated and feared by his fellow Romans. Fiennes' extensive experience onstage with Shakespeare's work serves him well in this film and plays a significant role in making what would be a challenging film for any director a definite success.
The story begins as General Caius Martius, who has already proven himself to be a fearsome warrior and enemy, is forced to suspend the liberties of Rome's citizens and deal with starving rioters who are angry at his actions. He is soon encouraged by his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave, "The Whistleblowers," "Miral") to seek the position of Consul, a move that would give Caius immense power and esteem. However, the Roman people loathe him for their hunger and their loss of liberty, and his fellow politicians work to nurture that hatred and ensure he is tossed out of Rome. This stunning betrayal pushes Caius to align with his enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler, "Gamer," "The Bounty Hunter"), to fight the Romans and seek vengeance against the powerful people who betrayed him.
Vanessa Redgrave gives one of the most powerful performances in the entire film as Volumnia, an ambitious and cold woman. Redgrave captures her character's controlling and Machiavellian nature to perfection. Her diabolical cruelty leaps from the screen and into the hearts of the film's viewers. When she brings her son to his knees, the audience is right there with him.
The plot is filled with heavy themes that would serve to make any drama riveting, but rather than using just one or two, "Coriolanus" contains a grab bag of several, combining politics, family discord, corruption, power, greed and war into an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Fiennes not only manages to successfully direct the film but also gives a stunning performance as the film's protagonist that leaves viewers breathless. There is more than just one scene that could cause the theater to quiet in anticipatory silence as viewers are enthralled by the action on the screen. As Caius, Fiennes effectively portrays a man who has been treated horribly by both those he loves and by the very few people to whom he's shown respect. He is not a greedy man but feels he must fight to avenge the poor treatment he's endured. Fiennes also successfully conveys Caius's main flaw: his inability to respect the people he risked his life to protect.
As a director, Fiennes managed to ensure the cast spoke the Shakespearean language naturally, which is a feat in itself. The shaky camerawork in the battle scenes and the theatrical flavor of the language combine to create an awe-inspiring atmosphere that sucks the viewer in and doesn't let go.
Gerard Butler also gives a standout performance as Tullus, who hates Caius almost as much as he loves his people. Jessica Chastain ("The Help," "The Tree of Life") plays his wife Virgilia with poise, making a small role particularly memorable.
While the film does tend to wander now and then and threatens to spoil due to the sheer magnitude of the plot, it remains a powerful experience for moviegoers in the end. The intense action that might be expected from such a film is surprisingly limited, and the film focuses instead on dialogue and intrigue. While this might have ruined the pace of other films, it adds a much-needed depth to "Coriolanus," and the viewer is willing to wait out the slower segments. Fiennes picked a powerhouse of a project to tackle for his debut, and a lesser man or woman might not have pulled it off, but he does so with style and ease.