I’ll keep this brief so as not to be disrespectful and admitting of my own ignorance.
Before the other night I had never given much thought to watching or reading the works of playwright William Shakespeare. Nor would I have considered a modern day action movie starring Ralph Feinnes as worth hunting down.
Now that I have seen Coriolanus, I can say that I have seen both. At least I multi-tasked and experienced both at once.
Coriolanus is a lesser known Shakespearean play about a brave but tactless war hero who is cast from society, only to return to enact vengeance upon those that he once protected. Ralph Feinnes has seen fit to adapt the film and set it in an entirely modern setting, but has retained the dialogue word for word.
So the film opens in a ‘place calling itself Rome’, which is in chaos. The society is wracked with civil unrest caused by the effects of war including food shortages. Local General Martius (Feinnes) cannot hide his contempt, turning back rioters looking for food and in the process making the term ‘fragments’ one of the most unexpectedly derogatory descriptors in cinema history.
Then off goes Martius and his men to fight a fierce battle in defence of his homeland and people. The Romans fight the Volsci, who are lead by his nemesis Tullus (Gerard Butler), a man who is almost Martius’ equal on the battlefield.
In an especially bloody battle the pair engage in a knife fight until both can barely stand, with a fatal outcome only averted by another explosions.
Martius returns to a hero’s welcome. With his family by his side he is granted the honour of a new name, And so Coriolanus is ‘born’.
Coriolanus ties to settle back into normal life in peacetime with his wife, son and admiring mother, though it seems that he is far more interested in the acceptance and approval of his mother than he is worried with how his wife sees him. But he rapidly grows restless and wants something more challenging.
Politicians want him on their side – war heros are easy to ‘sell’ – and he reluctantly agrees as long as his close friend and ally Menenius (Brian Cox) is beside him. With whirlwind tour of the ‘grassroots electorate’, Coriolanus refuses to talk himself up or to kiss babies for show. I fact he still despises the ‘common man’, he just hasn’t learned how to hide it like most politicians.
The public turns on the newly elected Coriolanus. Quickly. In a blur of anger, emotion and hasty decisions he is exiled alone and told never to return to his homeland.
The first person that he decides to look up is his sworn enemy Tullus…
In reality the plot of Coriolanus could fit in a tweet: ‘brave soldier betrayed by society, returns to wreak vengeance’, but this is far more than a First Blood rip-off.
The film has some action sequences, most notably the aforementioned Martius, Tullus face off, and some of the scenes are especially bloody and loud – as battlefields often are. But the core of Coriolanus is the dialogue, which to my untrained ears was both a blessing and a curse. As someone who like writing and reading for relaxation and enjoyment there was indeed pleasure in hearing the rich and intricately crafted lines emanating from the characters throughout the film, Brian Cox especially has a way that makes his dialogue sound luxurious.
But this was as often confusing as it was pleasurable, quite often I had to surrender my tiny brain to the fact that much of the verbiage was to fly over my head or through the space between my ears. At times I simply gave up and tried to keep up with the gist, meaning sometimes it took 357 words for someone to say “I’m pissed off”.
Then came the dual inconveniences of salty language combined with a thick accent. Gerard Butler especially was extremely hard to understand even when calm and he wasn’t too often calm. Even though he actually suggested he is a far better actor than I would have previously given him credit for, his Scottish brogue was not toned down one iota, meaning to me he was as incomprehensible as a foreign film with the subtitles turned off.
All that said there was much still to admire in Coriolanus, it’s just that I don’t feel I am sufficiently qualified to be doing the admiring.
Final Rating – 7 / 10. Is it a Shakespearean play with action film symptoms, or an action film with a lot of flowery dialogue? Either way have at it marketers!