★★ / ★★★★
In the midst of a food crisis in Rome, Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes), a general assigned by the government to protect a grain storage, is branded by the people as the enemy. With the way he comes off as cold and detached to the plight of the common people, his face easily becomes a symbol of corruption.
Meanwhile, enemies of the Romans, the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), threaten to invade Rome while the citizens turn against themselves. Martius is called upon to eliminate Aufidius, the two having worked together five times prior, and his armed men before they gain the upper hand.
“Coriolanus,” based on William Shakespeare’s play, is difficult to enjoy on the level of entertainment but the performances are so strong, I could not help but wonder what might happen next. The picture’s dialogue is essentially taken from the play and, in my experience, fully understanding it is like pulling teeth.
I have read a couple of the Bard’s plays and it had always been challenge. Constantly I found myself having to reread lines of dialogue in order to grasp the meaning behind the veiled poetic lyricism as well as the implications and emotions simmering between the lines. I encountered a similar task here. It is less work in some ways and more in others.
Since everything is visual, nothing much was left to the imagination in terms of space, where one character is relative to another and which characters are relevant to each scene. But since I was not able to read the dialogue on my own pace, the aural experience is a bit of a challenge because the actors speak very quickly—necessarily so—in order to invoke specific feelings like shame, rage, and passion. As much as I tried to keep up, at times with great frustration, there were times when I was confused in what is being said in one scene which inevitably affects another and why certain events inevitably transpire.
Hence I relied on watching the actors. I had fun observing Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, Martius’ mother, so obsessed with her son bringing honor to his country and family, I wondered if she really cared about her son as a person, capable of being vulnerable and getting hurt, rather than a mere tool to be disposed once its done its job. In some ways, I found her to be a scarier figure than Martius. With the son, as mercurial as he is at his best and a bellicose beast at his worst, at least he has an outlet for his negative emotions. Volumnia, on the other hand, has very little reason to be tempestuous and yet there is a danger about her bubbling underneath.
I found the relationship between Martius and Aufidius interesting. Although they are enemies at the time, it is easy to feel a certain level of respect and admiration between them. When I can feel that there is already a history between the characters without much discussion of it, that is when I know that I am watching something good—that the filmmakers are successful in creating a believable universe.
Based on the screenplay by John Logan and directed by Ralph Fiennes, I recommend the film to those interested in Shakespeare’s work and people who have little to no trouble decrypting early modern English because the project does have artistry as a film and offers good human drama. However, I did not enjoy it as a whole because of my limitations but I would not mind sitting through it for a second viewing.