Posted by Eli Cohen
Throwing Shakespeare's plays into the modern world is nothing new. A young Leonardo DiCaprio helmed the lead in "Romeo and Juliet," and Sir Ian McKellen in a 1930s, fascistic rendering of "Richard III." Yet, it has been several decades since such an adaptation emerged as a bonafide blockbuster film.
Ralph Fiennes attempts just that in "Coriolanus," his reimagining of the Bard's final tragedy, which is set in "a place that calls itself Rome" (actually filmed in Belgrade, Serbia). The veritable chameleon that he is, Fiennes pulls off a stellar performance as an elite soldier who makes the unwise decision to get into politics - even though he hates and is hated by the people he hopes to represent - on the advice of his mother (a fantastic Vanessa Redgrave) and his longtime friend (Brian Cox, "The Bourne Identity").
Things go poorly for the stone-eyed killer when he refuses to play nice with the populace, and he gets exiled from the place that calls itself Rome. Trying to make the most of a bad situation, he joins up with the one man who could possibly best him in a fight - Gerard Butler. From there, madness ensues.
The problem with this film isn't exactly the Shakespearean language (though it sounds clumsy and awkward on Butler's tongue) nor is it the fighting, which is done very well. The problem is that the film simply cannot decide on its purpose- is it a tragedy or a shoot-em-up action movie? Fiennes spends most of the film literally covered in blood while desperately shouting Shakespearean lines that take far longer than standard battle scene dialogue.
That is not to say that he isn't good at playing Shakespeare's tragic warrior. In fact, he's great, having cut his teeth playing the same role on stage a decade ago. It's just that, throughout the movie, something just didn't feel right. The ending is abrupt, Fiennes spends far too little time with the Volscian army and, above all, one is not moved to care about any of the characters.
All of the actors do more than fine jobs portraying their characters, but in the end, acting is what it looks like. It does not seem like you are watching Caius Martius Coriolanus team up with fellow supersoldier Tullus Aufidius to take on the might of a place that calls itself Rome. Instead, it feels like you're watching Ralph Fiennes team up with Butler to talk to some people and maybe do one more generic battle scene.
Perhaps this effect is lessened if the viewer is as familiar with the original work as "Macbeth" or "Hamlet," but I think that there is a reason this play itself is less-well known: it simply does not depict as moving or interesting a story. And, in the end, that is the ultimate shortcoming of the film. It is well-filmed, well-written and well-acted, but it simply is not that compelling.