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A Fine Adaptation of War Hot

Ron Severdia
Written by Ron Severdia     June 24, 2012    
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A Fine Adaptation of War
  • Directed by Ralph Fiennes
  • Icon Entertainment International
  • Released 2012
  • Running time: 123 minutes
Overall 5

The time is the present day, and the effects of famine and war have brought both civil unrest in Rome and calls for the death of Caius Martius. His arch-enemy, the Volscian general Tullus Aufidius, is happy to oblige or give up his own life in the process. This sets up an inevitable fight to the death between these two powerful fighting machines.

Coriolanus is Ralph Fiennes's adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most misunderstood plays. It is a complex weave of stories and changing plot trajectories that intimidate even the most experienced of directors. Shot with a handheld camera (mainly in Serbia, where the wounds of war are still fresh), the film intersperses news clips to give it an overall feel of the 24-hour cable news world we live in today—journalism that never sleeps no matter where you are.

Fiennes (probably better known as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series) directed this remarkable adaptation with a script that is clear as a bell (thanks to John Logan). Film adaptations of this problematic play are few and far between (the 1979 version was an unmemorable adaptation from the New York Shakespeare Festival with a small cast and a young Morgan Freeman in the title role), but this is one for the ages.

When Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is victorious in his battle, he returns home to a hero's welcome, including high praise from his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave). But his post-traumatic stress disorder and distaste for the machinations of politics as usual cause him to rub his own people the wrong way. And they don't take it lightly.

His confidant Menenius (Brian Cox, The Bourne Trilogy) tries everything to keep the peace, but he is outnumbered on all sides—especially when it comes to Coriolanus' stubbornness. The tribunes call Martius a traitor and call for his banishment. In a rousing speech, he "turns his back" on his country and leaves. He turns to the last person who should give him refuge—Tullus Aufidius.

Gerard Butler (300) as Tullus Aufidius stands his own in the multi-cultural cast. He is a strong leader well loved by the Volscians. He realizes the potential of Martius' defection and decides to use that against the Romans the best he can. The once arch-enemies have now become an unlikely and unstoppable "dragon" to take over Rome and exact revenge. The Romans think Menenius is their last hope to save Rome so they send him to reason with Martius, but to no avail.

Virgilia (Jessica Chastain, The Help) is an understated character in this adaptation as the main focus is on the relationship between Martius and his mother Volumnia. Her pleads are the country's last resort to spare Rome and lead to a peace treaty between the warring factions. But all is not well, and even the great Caesar fell.

Released to select film festivals in 2011, Coriolanus did not hit U.S. movie theaters until January 2012 and only recently became available to a wider audience on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes. Like Branagh's Henry V and McKellen's Richard III, it is a don't-miss film that has staying power for years to come. 

Listen now to the Shakespeare Talks podcast with Ralph Fiennes:

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