Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler
Shakespeare’s story about societal strife and class warfare, with an introverted soldier stuck in the middle, comes to home video. All thanks to Voldermort.
In this modern retelling of the Shakespearean play, the infamous Roman soldier Caius Martius Coriolanus defeats all of Rome’s enemies and moves up the political ranks of the government through no effort of his own. Whereas the high-ranking, privileged class sees an icon, the downtrodden common people see an oppressor who bears no love towards them. They cast him out of Rome and into the welcoming arms of both Rome’s and Coriolanus’ greatest enemy – Tullus Aufidius and the Volscian army.
This is the story of a guy who just can’t catch a break. Coriolanus isn’t especially a nice guy, but everyone is trying to make him out to be something he’s not, be it a hero, a political idol, or a tyrannical demon. Really, he’s a really good soldier with poor social skills. He’s great on the battlefield with his men, which is probably the most thrilling scenes of the film, but forcing him to take any sort of political position where he must deal with all types of people is the mistake that leads to this tragedy.
The film is the directorial debut of renowned actor/He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Ralph Fiennes, who also stars as the titular Coriolanus. As his first go-around, he does a great job. Everyone knows what to do. Everything is shot and cut well. It’s a well-put-together film. The story fits well in modern day, supplanting the ancient Roman/Volscian political strife into an urban warfare environment more reminiscent of Middle Eastern or ‘90s eastern European struggles.
The cast does a great job, especially Fiennes, Gerard Butler (Coriolanus’ frenemy Aufidius), Brian Cox (the senator and number one Coriolanus cheerleader Menenius), and Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus’ controlling mother Virgilia). Even those whose characters felt underused, as with Jessica Chastain’s Volumnia (Coriolanus’ wife), still bring emotion to the character. Plus it’s always impressive to see actors effortlessly recite Shakespearean dialog, which also happens to be what I think the film’s biggest weakness is.
If you find actual Shakespearean dialog impenetrable, then you’re out of luck here. Despite taking place in modern times, almost the entire dialog is lifted straight from the original play or written to match. I’m not a fan of Shakespearean dialog, as I find it wordy. Some of the lines do add an impressive theatricality, especially to the main battle scene. Still, most of the time, it’s a struggle to translate in your head as the film continues (watching with subtitles helps a bit). The dialog also probably makes the film longer than it would have been otherwise; as I’m sure the two-hour run time could have been an hour and a half with contemporary and to the point dialog.
The more I think back on the story after it’s had time to sink in, the more I remember fondly and respect it. Yet dredging through that dense, but expertly delivered, dialog takes away some of the joy of watching as it feels more like homework.
The Blu-Ray presents the film in 1080p high-definition, 2.35:1 widescreen. The film is well shot. Everything is clean and clear, without compromising the grungy look of the war-torn urban landscape.
The audio track comes in 5.1 DTSHD-MA. Unfortunately the audio for the dialog is on the quiet side, which with the dense verbosity led me to watch the film with subtitles on. Also unfortunately, a particularly large explosion in the film is a good bit louder, so I’m sure you can imagine the surprise when it occurred with my volume already turned high just to hear what everyone is saying. My neighbors probably heard it too.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This set comes with a making-of documentary and directorial commentary, as well as a DVD copy of the film. The making-of is only five minutes, playing mere lip service to what looks to be more interesting effort that went into this. I wish it were a more fulfilled feature.
The directorial commentary, however, does an excellent job taking you through the film and explaining everything you need to know (especially if the dialog didn’t). If you do watch the movie, I recommend watching it with the commentary after.
Overall (Not an Average)
This isn’t really an easy watch, but I think the story is compelling enough to make it worth it. Shakespeare’s original play is shown here to be just as relevant today, even if his own dialog isn’t. For anyone who enjoys Shakespeare or is studying it (or teaching a class and need something action-filled to get the students’ attention), Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is a worthwhile watch to work through.
The Film 7/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7.5/10