Review: Coriolanus


This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!


Oh, how I wish I could cite the Titus Conundrum as an exception here, but I cannot. What I mean by that is that I did know of Coriolanus at the end of last year and its having opened at the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia in late 2011 made it eligible for the BAMs last year. To make a long story short, I could’ve seen it but I did not. Therefore, it cannot carry over into 2012 unlike some films, which I had no legitimate chance of seeing last year, like We Need to Talk About Kevin for instance.

There are many facts that this film crystallized in my mind: first, it is much easier for me to watch Shakespeare, even if going in cold, than to read it. Seeing some sort of visual accompaniment provides a context that in a way allows me to focus on the words, the inflections used and in so doing I interpret rather rapidly. Whereas with the text, it’s you and the book and you stare at the words, glance at the footnotes and not having a framework of production there’s a bit more mental legwork to do to break down that barrier, to surpass the wonderful linguistic acrobatics and capture the meaning.

The second fact was a bit more interesting, as I have now for the fourth time seen a cinematic adaptation, which took liberties in updating the visuals of the story, quite a few things became clear simultaneously: While I certainly take no issue with a film that wants to take a literal period approach, I love the creativity that these modernized renditions show. Perhaps the biggest facts they underline is the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes. In Coriolanus, for example, the names of the characters and the city-states remain the same. If looking at the text I would wonder what on Earth is a Volsci and where is Volscica, not that those questions are invalidated, but with this rendition that portrays Ancient Rome in a modern yet alternate reality, it’s easy enough to understand; Rome is a huge Empire, Volscica lies on the outside, they are an enemy state.

Coriolanus, like many a Shakespearean tragedy I’m sure, excels due to the fact that you not only understand the tragic figure’s flaw, and to an extent identify with it but circumstances constantly conspire to shift characters from one side to another, power play opportunities abound and each and everyone is taken, plots and counter-plots are always afoot.

With the implementation of news television as a major narrative device, combined with televised senatorial debates, even the peculiarities of Roman politics become not only easily accessible almost instantly but the entire story resonates so much more as a modern political allegory than it would be allowed to as a period piece.

The performances are exceptional and what also allows the film to be quite relatable is that the nucleus of dramatis personae is not as large here as in other Shakespearean works, at least in terms of major figures as they are presented here.

Essentially, Coriolanus as envisioned by first-time director and lead Ralph Fiennes and multi-talented screenwriter John Logan is a film that is likely to be an awe-inspiring experience for neophytes and die-hard Shakespeare fans alike. I know hearing from people on either side of that fence made me want to see it and after another invigorating adaptation I am certainly seeking to brush up on my Shakespeare further.