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The Independent Critic

Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain, Brian Cox, James Nesbitt
Ralph Fiennes
John Logan, William Shakespeare
Rated R
122 Mins.
The Weinstein Company
Extras will include an audio commentary with director and star Ralph Fiennes, and a “The Making of Coriolanus” featurette.

 "Coriolanus" Review 
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2011 has definitely been quite the year for thrillers, with Coriolanus being one of the year's best. The feature film directing debut by actor Ralph Fiennes, who also stars in the film, Coriolanus takes the 17th-century Shakespearean tragedy and places it squarely in what is and easily could be a modern day tragedy. Geographically, the action of Coriolanus is set within a city called Rome, though this Rome doesn't necessarily resemble the Italian city upon which it will undoubtedly be compared.

Fiennes stars here as Coriolanus, also known as Caius Martius, a military general whose approach to protestors, rebellion or any degree of dissent is to squelch it with merciless directness and brutality. His style, or lack thereof, wins him much acclaim and support within his inner circle to politicize his existence, a vision endorsed by his fiery, power-fueled mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave). However, Corolanius is unable and unwilling to contemplate any life outside that of military and he's certainly unwilling to suddenly compromise from those very people whose voices he has squelched. Eventually, his public support wanes and when a melee leads to his being banished he aligns himself with Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), his long sworn enemy.

It perhaps goes without saying that this is, at its very foundation, a Shakespearean tragedy and, therefore, nothing is to go as expected (unless, of course, you're actually familiar with this lesser known Shakespeare work).

Fiennes played this role on the London stage a few years back, and his comfort with both the character and the story are obvious. Fiennes is often mesmerizing here, his command of the film's Shakespearean language fluid and convincing and convicting. While he's occasionally betrayed by hand-held camera work, which is not utilized throughout the film but primarily in its more action-oriented sequences, it would seem that Fiennes has been ruminating on the cinematic presentation of this material for quite some time.

Vanessa Redgrave is extraordinary as Volumnia, whose maternal instincts are primarily self-serving and who can't or won't see that her son is ill-equipped to actually seek the very public role of Consul. The moments of conflict between mother and son are palpable, but so too are the moments of near incestuous intimacy with Coriolanus' relatively surrendered wife (Jessica Chastain) uncomfortably in the background. Casting Redgrave was both a logical choice and a stroke of genius, her command of the language remarkable and her ability to live within the character absolutely brilliant. While she's not given as much to do, Jessica Chastain offers her fifth marvelous performance of 2011 after The Tree of Life, The Help, Take Shelter and The Debt.

In fact, the entire supporting cast is strong here with even Gerard Butler managing to impress with his turn as Aufidius. Butler is essentially playing yet another variation of his 300/Machine Gun Preacher persona, but Butler is able to express just enough in the way of emotional depth that he manages to humanize otherwise inhumane characters.

D.P. Barry Ackroyd, who also lensed The Hurt Locker, manages to beautifully capture both tension and humanity and, at times, allows the camera to linger until just the right moment. While the aforementioned hand-held work disappoints, it's worth noting that it's not an over-utilized gimmick and Ackroyd's so solid throughout that it's easy to let go of a few jarring, distracting shots.

John Logan, who also penned Scorsese's Hugo this year, adapts Shakespeare's work in a way that remains faithful to the source material while upping the ante on current relevance. With a world that seems to be occupied with rebellion these days, Logan's script and the direction of Fiennes weave themselves together to remind us that centuries after he's been gone Shakespeare remains a remarkably relevant writer.

Destined for primarily an arthouse distribution with The Weinstein Company, the popularity of Fiennes and the film's likely handful of Oscar nods should assure it a decent audience. Fiennes himself hasn't seemed this invigorated on camera for years, though I'm sure there will be those who liken his performance here to a certain Harry Potter character.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic