Review: Coriolanus

PLOT: Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes), Rome’s greatest warrior, is stabbed in the back by the machinations of the senate and banished. Having sworn vengeance on those that betrayed him, Coriolanus strikes a bargain with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler)- leader of the armies of Gaul, to march on Rome.

REVIEW: I’m confident in saying that Ralph Fiennes’ CORIOLANUS is unlike any Shakespeare adaptation you’ve seen before. Fiennes, along with screenwriter John Logan (GLADIATOR) takes The Bard’s text, and puts it into the context of a modern war film, with Rome being more of a metaphorical representation of the West (it’s identified as “a place called Rome”). It’s certainly not the first modern-day take on Shakespeare (Baz Luhnman’s ROMEO + JULIET, and Julie Taymor’s TITUS are both excellent examples of that trend), but by marrying it to the grit and realism of a film like THE HURT LOCKER, it’s something that will hit a lot closer to home for more audiences than it would have done otherwise.

In the lead, Fiennes is supremely bad-ass. Sporting the same shaved-head he had in the HARRY POTTER films (making him look a bit like a more erudite Jason Statham), he looks the part of a battle-weary warrior. With his shark-like-eyes, and cold stare, he cuts an imposing figure. He also handles himself quite well in the action scenes, including an awesomely brutal brawl with Gerard Butler early in the film. For those of you wondering how much action Fiennes was able to work into the film, pretty much the entire first act of the film is loaded with carnage, before settling in the the more subtle latter acts.

In addition to Fiennes, the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, including the out-of-the-box choice of Butler as Tullus, who spouts off Shakespeare’s text with the best of em’, and is in no way overshadowed by the other heavyweights in the cast. Fiennes also explores the homo-erotic subtext of the relationship between Coriolanus and Tullus, with it being evident that both men deeply admire each other (when not try to tear each other limb from limb), with Tullus even seeming to love Coriolanus at times, in a way which may or may not be a little more than brotherly. It adds an interesting subtext to the story, making their final confrontation all the more meaningful.

The great Brian Cox, along with James Nesbitt, represent the Roman senate, and both are about as good as you’d expect- meaning of course that they’re great. Cox in particular seems to be having a ball sinking his teeth into Shakespeare’s earth-shattering monologues. The ever-present Jessica Chastain is on-board as Coriolanus’ wife, who yearns for the day her husband will give up his war-mongering. Most impressive of all is Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus’ mother, who, at times, is even more vicious than her son. Redgrave is so good in the last act, that I imagine a best supporting actress Oscar nomination is a given.

Truly, CORIOLANUS is a unique Shakespearean adaptation, and it also suggests a striking talent for Fiennes as a director, with him, along with ace cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (THE HURT LOCKER) giving the film a stripped-down, brutal look that would make Kathryn Bigelow proud. Even if you’re not normally up for Shakespearean drama, CORIOLANUS is well worth a look.

Review: Coriolanus




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.