Since this is a good movie, that means I get to write a positive review. "Coriolanus" was written by William Shakespeare, who is easily the best screenwriter in Hollywood, but oddly never seems to ever get that Oscar he so desperately deserves. "Coriolanus" is one of his more obscure plays, and having seen this movie, why? This is also the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, and he stars in the movie too. Shakespeare, to his misfortune, didn't get much say in the artistic development of this movie, because he clearly wanted this to be set in the ancient Roman Republic, but Fiennes instead casts it in depressing modern-day Eastern Europe. These creative differences led to Shakespeare taking his name off the final movie, and instead they gave screenwriter credit to the imaginary pseudonym "John Logan"*. But despite this behind the scenes acrimony, "Coriolanus" was a great movie, something that Mr. Shakespeare should be proud of.
"Coriolanus" is a political tragedy where the titular Gaius Marcius Coriolanus throws away his future in the Roman Republic for hating the people and refusing to compromise. Its also a violent war movie, with an awesome action scene (but sadly only one). This is like a fully modern war drama only with Shakespeare's special brand of incredible writing which is arguably the greatest work the English language has ever produced. Its hyper modern, where BBC news anchors on TV have replaced the traditional Shakespearian character of a Herald. Instead of togas and spears there are officer uniforms, business suits, and machine guns. A lot of Shakespeare movies set themselves in modern times, but usually stylized Victorian times or a Fascist Britain, "Coriolanus" goes so far as to have cellphones in it. So go out and see it immediately if you can. Definitely one of the best movies of 2012 so far.
One of the great things that Fiennes does for "Coriolanus" is surround himself with very strong actors, making for an incredible cast. Gerard Butler is of course the main barbarian villain, giving his usual Scottish arrogance to the Bard's meter. Brian Cox plays a supportive senator. Jessica Chastain is Coriolanus' wife. And most impressively, Vanessa Redgrave plays Coriolanus's militaristic mother, stealing every single scene. Coriolanus' mother was easily the strongest character in the play, driving the title character forward in all decisions, looming over his life much more than his wife and son (and bringing some creepy incestuous undertones too). Coriolanus himself might be the hero, but he's actually relatively absent from the audience, not giving a single soliloquy - oddly there's not a single soliloquy in this entire movie.
As a matter of fact, Coriolanus's own lack of introspection is the fundamental problem of the
So... as you can tell by that bit of literary criticism, I really loved Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" and I loved Fiennes' version of it... which is the only version I've ever seen.
Unlike most of Shakespeare's work there is actually a full-blown action scene towards the middle of the movie. Coriolanus charges into a building full of his enemies all on his own, then has a knife-fight with the big boss. Unfortunately, this is the only real action scene in the movie, and there really needed to be another one towards the end. I just like having the cool fight scenes at the end, not the beginning. The resolution is emotional for its own reasons. There's also a bit of pacing problems in the movie where the third quarter of the movie drags on for about twenty minutes too long.
In another positive, this is probably the most streamlined adaptation of a Shakespeare movie. By that I mean that it was very understandable and well-paced. Often enough when you watch Shakespeare the dialog goes by too fast and you might misunderstand the meaning of a speech or miss an allusion to classical mythology. "Coriolanus" was very easy to follow, so even if you don't like Shakespeare you could probably watch this movie without much trouble.
In conclusion "Coriolanus" was a great movie, great for Shakespeare fans (like me), and good in all the ways you'd want out of a movie. Not perfect, there have been better Shakespeare war movies, such as Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V", but still worth seeing. If only it was playing in more than one theatre in the East Village... that's unfortunate. I'd really like more people to have the option to see it instead of having to settle for "The Lorax" or something.
* John Logan also "wrote" - if we can play around for a bit - "Gladiator" and "Hugo", a few somewhat decent movies, and "Bats", the greatest movie ever made.