Before him, he carries noise and behind him he leaves tears.
Death, that dark spirit, in his nervy arm doth lie
Which, being advanced, declines, and then men die.
Some of Shakespeare's most renowned plays have been adapted many times over and modernized re-imaginings are nothing new. Baz Lurhmann transported Romeo and Juliet to Miami and set their tragic romance to an alternative rock soundtrack. Ian McKellan set his version of "Richard III" in a 1930's England that resembled Nazi Germany. That particular film is the closest in spirit to "Coriolanus," which marks the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes. This is also the first time "Coriolanus," based off the purported life of a real Roman general, has been translated to the big screen.
An opening title placard states that the story is set in a "place called Rome" though it was shot on location in Belgrade. Fiennes is Caius Martius, a leading general in the military charged with the protection of the city. He leads a successful campaign against its enemies, the Volscians, led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). He returns home to the love of his wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain) and his fiercely patriotic mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave). The city's leaders heap adoration upon Martius and bestow upon him the honorific title, Coriolanus, after the Volscian city he conquered. His close friend, Menenius (Brian Cox), advises Coriolanus to go into politics. However, his quick temper and open disdain for the common people turn out to be his undoing. Opposing senators Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt) undermine Coriolanus by whipping the masses into a frenzy against him and force the government to banish him. Seeking revenge, he allies himself with Aufidius to lead the Volscian army against the city that spurned him.
It's a testament to Shakespeare that a play written in the 1600's as commentary for the discontent of the government in his era still remains relevant to this day. Fiennes has captured these themes in all their gritty detail. The setting of bombed out buildings will instantly bring to mind the war-torn countries of Serbia, Bosnia, as well as those in the Middle East. An opening protest by the plebeians has echoes of the political unrest in places like Egypt and Libya as well as the Occupy movement. There's an immediacy to these sequences thanks to Fiennes' direction and the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd, who shot "United 93," "Green Zone," and "The Hurt Locker." The screenplay by John Logan ("Gladiator") maintains a fine balance between modernity and the florid language of Shakespeare. Logan and Fiennes even manage to incorporate CNN-esque news updates as a Greek chorus.
To no one's surprise, Fiennes is excellent in the title role, infusing a quiet fury to Coriolanus while going big in a theatrical manner when necessary. Gerard Butler is all sound and fury as the antagonistic Aufidius in a similar performance to King Leonidas in "300." It's a treat to watch Fiennes and Butler in a battle of snarling rage. Vanessa Redgrave's Volumnia won't be winning any mother of the year awards. She isn't overtly malevolent, but more of an aristocratic stage mom. She would rather have a dozen dead sons who died defending their country than one who lived a long life in anonymity. The supporting cast also includes the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain, who seemed to appear in practically every film in 2011. Her part is disappointingly brief and not nearly as meaty as her roles in "Take Shelter" or "The Tree of Life."
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is flawless with a slight graininess that adds texture to the overall picture. Details are fine and colors are strong.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound is high quality and will turn your home theater into a veritable battleground. You'll get the most effect from gunfire, explosions, and crowd noise.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track by Ralph Fiennes. He discusses adapting Shakespeare, some of the slight changes from the source material, and the cast. Fiennes does have a tendency to simply describe what is happening on screen.
The Making of Coriolanus (5:38) is a brief behind the scenes featurette.
This release also includes a DVD version of the film.
"Make you a sword of me."
There can be a disconnect when you attempt to place the poetic words of Shakespeare into a contemporary setting, especially one involving televisions and cell phones. This isn't the case with "Coriolanus." The language of the Bard flows from the tongues of the cast without feeling artificial or hokey. Ralph Fiennes makes a powerful directorial debut that stands as a parable for the hot button issues of today.