Full disclosure: I've never read the play this is based on. In fact, I had never heard of this "lesser" Shakespeare until I saw the trailer. And honestly, the trailer is the primary reason I wanted to see the movie. It looked intriguing, and I was curious to see how Fiennes would do in his debut as a director.
Well, those might not be the best reasons for seeing a movie, because it is shallow, but I don't care. I stuck to my guns, and finally saw it....and I'm glad I did.
Set in an alternate version of contemporary times, this is the story of a general named Caius Martius from a place that calls itself Rome who is simultaneously revered and feared. He finds himself at odds with his city and its people after his bid for a seat on the Consul backfires after he goes off on a tirade that insults the common people. There's more to it of course, with lots of manipulations, scheming, and political power plays, but essentially what happens is that Caius Martius,(who is given the title Coriolanus after he takes a city from his mortal enemy's territory) finds himself an exile of Rome, and is forced to join forces with his mortal enemy to get revenge on Rome.
The original work by Shakespeare might take place in Ancient Roman times, but the wonderful thing about the Bard is that his work, minus the specifics, is very timeless and can be relevant in basically any era. The movie is supposed to be in a contemporary alternate Rome, but it seemed more like Serbia and the military actions that took place there during the 1990s. Of course, that could just be from the fact that the movie was shot on location in Belgrade.
The setting and time are updated, but the original language is unchanged. This can be disorienting for people not used to the Elizabethan style, but it mostly works pretty well. Some of the dialogue does stick out and seem a tad out of place since the story is contemporized, but overall, this is a solid adaptation with some great themes concerning honor, revenge, and political machinations.
You could call this a war film, especially due to the first like 45 minutes, but in the end this is just a good old fashioned revenge story, and there's not a thing in the world wrong with that. Some of this is pretty gritty, bloody, and grim, but it is awesome. Some of the shaky cam during the action scenes is mildly annoying, and I'm not sure that it use was the best decision, but thankfully the editing keeps things from being completely unwatchable.
Fiennes does a great job in the lead role. He's intense, brooding, and when things get real, you can just tell some serious business is about to go down. I love Gerard Butler, and it's cool seeing him here as Coriolanus's sworn foe, but he's actually a little underwhelming here, and there's not as much of him as I was hoping for. He is decent though. Along with them, the film does have a solid supporting cast who all do really good jobs, especially Brian Cox, and most of all Vanessa Redgrave.
All in all, the play might be lesser Shakespeare (in terms of popularity and quality), but this is a stirring and gripping film. Definitely give it a chance. Fiennes is a little rusty as a director, but I think this could nevertheless be the great beginning for him as a man behind the camera.