Plot ~ War hero Coriolanus is exiled following a failed political career and seeks out his old enemy.
William Shakespeare’s plays were written to be performed to the back of the theatre and so find new dimensions through the medium of film. The close-up camera catches every subtle speech inflection and micro expression. Director Ralph Fiennes’ camera is very intimate indeed.
Coriolanus is book-ended with documentary-style warfare that channels Fiennes’ experience on The Hurt Locker; familiar to anyone who plays certain first-person shooter games. It’s sharp and dynamic, with the director and star loading on an almost primal machismo. Fiennes knows this is a play about war, pride and politics too frequently over-shadowed by the Bard’s Julius Caesar. The mid-section however with its public speeches, news broadcasts and TV debate shows, is over earnest and lacking in engaging characters.
The ladies are badly served here. Vanessa Redgrave is a steely matriarch but ill-paired with Jessica Chastain as Coriolanus’ (Fiennes) wife. It is a waste of a usually captivating actress but Coriolanus’ only significant relationship is with his enemy, the consciously dashing Aufidius (Gerard Butler).
Fiennes’ Rome looks like anywhere in contemporary Eastern Europe portrayed as a grim fantasy patriarchy beset by border wars and internal conflict. It is a grey and hopeless world that raises a most pertinent question: what should society do with a warrior when the war is done with him?
There is finally some colour and fire in the fetishising of tribal war-party preparations; for Coriolanus is a man who can only find peace by embracing both his nature and his enemy.
Verdict ~ Bold, ambitious and rewards patience. Potent themes and a powerful lead.