There are positives and negatives to setting Shakespeare’s plays in different eras. On the plus side, the stories can be more relatable. On the down side, changing the time period can come with an agenda and the director has to force the play awkwardly into a new framework. Nevertheless, the good often outweighs the bad, as is the case here.
The time and the place are never specified, but the audience can assume that the story is set in a 21st century Eastern European ‘Rome.’ The commoners are outraged over food shortages and martial law. Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) is a prominent warrior trying to suppress insurgence from a hostile neighbor whose army is led by his sworn enemy, Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Coriolanus’ people skills are inversely proportional to his skills on the battlefield and when he returns triumphant and attempts to run for office, he so enrages the populace with his contempt that he is banished.
And that’s when things get weird. Despite having a supportive, slightly oedipal mother, Volumina (Vanessa Redgrave), and a loving wife, Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), Coriolanus seeks out his mortal enemy to fight with him against Rome. This move can be difficult for modern audiences to wrap their brains around. I mean, if you’re the star quarterback but the crowd boos you every time you walk out on the field, would you drop out of Alabama to play for Auburn? Furthermore, unlike a Hamlet or a Lear, Coriolanus has no soliloquy where he can explain to the audience the justifications for his unconventional behavior, leaving us to assume they are simply the actions of a spoiled and entitled child.
The brilliance of this film lies with the actors. Yes, it’s Shakespeare. Yes, you have to be an active listener, but the way these actors make the language so passionate and accessible truly is an accomplishment.
It's a 7.