Shakespeare's works have been adapted time and time again; and filmmakers that are attracted to it frequently seem to have a background in the performing arts; this is because Shakespeare has always made compelling characters, placing the film's focus on them rather than the story itself, conveying them with simplicity in their motivation but complexity in their execution. Stage actors are faced to constantly draw out their emotions when adapting Shakespeare, and only in the emergence of his works in cinema did it become more subtle; but even translated through cinema, it is still essential to its charm to retain that melodramatic feel, reminding us of a style that once brought emotions to minds and hearts of its audience.
Filmmakers like Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh have adapted many of the playwright's work, displaying them at their most beautiful, and at times most faithful. Though this faithfulness has slightly grown stale to the audiences today, with constant new adaptations of the same four to five plays; providing execution and direction that feels all too familiar. Ralph Fiennes, an established actor of today and a breakthrough performer of the late 20th century, has decided to take on the task of being a director, and his first film would be Shakespeare; an inspired move, hoping to find success similar to Branagh and Olivier, but unlike Branagh, he does not mimic Olivier; instead he attempts to be different, to adapt a not-so well-known play "Coriolanus". It was in his debut that he has proven to all those that may have doubts that he is just as effective behind the camera as he is in front of it. He has created an adaptation that is so bizzaringly fitting that one cannot help but provide applause. What he has done is that he has taken a play set long before, during the time it was written I presume, and has translated it to the conditions of contemporary society; the story itself is still fiction, and the political structure of the plot is still based on the conditions of before, but the move felt so smooth that one does not even notice its dated construction.
In a nutshell, Coriolanus is a deeply rooted character study that exposes the layers that leads to his eventual demise; sorry for the spoiler. It explores themes that are common in the playwright's other works but its contemporary translation and tense direction by Fiennes, allows it to come off as an intelligent political thriller, which I think would have been lost if Fiennes remained too faithful to the play's structure. It shows how a man filled with so much inherent pride, that his views and remarks, along with the corruptible influence of ambitious politicians, could shape the minds of the common citizens; taking advantages of their ignorance and power in shaping the government to their ideal desires. The titular character is no doubt flawed, but we are constantly reminded of his virtues, a gifted warrior and patriot, doing what he can to serve and protect his glorious city; but due to his judgmental and pretentious perspective of the poor, and pair it with the decision in to place control on the city's food, he easily comes off as the antagonist. Fiennes was able to not only let it be about the titular character, but also the city itself and the enemies it has, notably a rebel named Tullus Aufidius. Important and influential citizens were given time to be seen, showing how determined they are in ensuring the government would appoint a consul that genuinely cares for the people. It takes an exhaustive look at a large and damaged city, and doing so without shifting its focus too far from the titular figure; I commend both the screenwriter John Logan and Fiennes in making this a possibility.
Like all Shakespeare adapted films, it primarily showcases the performances of its actors; showing how they inhabit the roles they have been appointed responsible with, and whether justice and faithfulness has been achieved. My personal relationship with the play is almost to none, therefore I cannot note any comparisons to the source material or any other theatrical or stage adaptation; but on its own, I was highly impressed with what the cast has given and the wonderful direction that was placed upon them. Fiennes owned the titular role, and if it wasn't for his remarkable performance in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, then this would have been my favourite from the actor. Fiennes allowed the actor to be completely exposed, at his most boastful and at his most vulnerable, without having it all come off as forced or loathing. It may not be the most compelling of characters; not being as damaged of figures such as Hamlet and Macbeth, but he was able to bring enough into his performance to make it seem so. I also was impressed with the performance given by Gerard Butler, a man who is fierce and determined to bring down his enemies, fitting strongly with the physique and trademark delivery of the actor; he was able to bring so much depth with his lines, something I rarely see from the actor, understanding that his physicality alone cannot do the role justice. Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave were also wonderful, playing advisory roles and support for the protagonist; their effect is much more subtle, hitting their marks when needed but constantly overshadowed by Fiennes. Jessica Chastain also appears in the film, in a thankless role that barely had any time to be explored; not enough screen time to make her role complex and engaging.
Coriolanus is a marvellous film that stands tall along the best of Shakespeare cinematic adaptations. Fiennes has given us an original and brutal vision of the play, but still retaining its most crucial elements. He is a director that many should look out for, as he shows great potential in becoming one of the most intelligent directors of the 21st century.
I didn't mind the modern setting, and thought director Ralph Fiennes did a good job in modernizing the play. However, I also felt that some of the plot didn't translate well into the modern day, especially the speed of communication and news.
(Aside: as a great example of how to modernize a Shakespeare play see Richard Loncraine's 1995 version of Richard III. Richard III is, however, a much more interesting drama to begin with...).
The wordiness of it all (it is Shakespeare, after all) also slows things down, and doesn't help the dullness factor.
Good performance by Ralph Fiennes in the lead role. Gerard Butler, whom I generally don't rate as an actor, puts in a fine performance as Aufidius. The most powerful performance, however, comes from Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus' mother.
Good support from Brian Cox. Jessica Chastain seems a bit out of her element in a Shakespeare play.
Hard to dislike Shakespeare, so this is a rarity.