William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus has never been one of the more popular of the Bard’s tragedies to stage. The protagonist is rather grim and inflexible, there are no real subplots with colorful villains plotting his downfall, and the text doesn’t offer any singular monologue that has lived outside the confines of the play itself. Despite its lack of public identification, actor Ralph Fiennes has brought the play to the screen directing it as an updated, ripped-from-the-headlines kind of central European civil war saga that cuts Shakespeare’s text judiciously but retains the fervor of battle-scarred ego and reputation that war films typically generate.
Coriolanus (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Ralph Fiennes
Studio: Weinstein/Anchor Bay
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 124 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: May 29, 2012
Review Date: May 23, 2012
Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes) is a fierce commander with no fear of death and only his country’s safety foremost in his mind. Leading his troops against the upstart Volsces headed by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), he’s able to drive the enemy back and win a great victory and safety for his city. So grateful are the city statesmen that they offer Martius a consulship and a new title “Coriolanus,” but it can only be made official if the general public so desires it, a request Martius must ask personally of the common men waiting outside. Disgusted that he must bow low to the rabble, Martius initially does just enough to win their favor, but their acquiescence quickly turns to rancor when two rabble-rousing senators (James Nesbitt, Paul Jesson) who despise Martius’ arrogance talk against him and change their minds. Enraged over their quick change of heart, Martius curses their fickle support leading to a city-wide mutiny against him and banishment from the city. Martius then decides if his city doesn’t want him, he’ll offer his services to the city’s sworn enemy, the Volsces in Antium. Though wary of his true allegiance, Aufidius takes him in where his charisma quickly wins the army over, and they begin their new assault on their rivals.
Updating the story to modern day central Europe (the film was shot in Belgrade) neither helps nor hinders the power of its story and the complexities of its main characters. By shortening the text, screenwriter John Logan has made sure to keep audiences abreast of what’s happening (in case they can’t follow iambic pentameter) by including television reports whose headlines pretty much spell out the major events as they’re occurring. Fiennes hasn’t made things easy for himself as a first-time director with the battle scenes which predominate the film’s first half hour, but the herky-jerky camera moves by Barry Ackroyd (who shot The Hurt Locker) cover any lapses the fledgling director might have made. An early one-on-one confrontation between Martius and Aufidius is shot too close losing much of its potential effectiveness (Butler is so much more physically imposing that it’s important to see how Fiennes’ character outmaneuvers him), but once the battle scenes are over and the film becomes one of thespic artistry, we’re allowed to see and hear some of the finest actors in the world playing some of the very best dynamic and emotional material they’ll ever have. Shakespeare’s themes of pride before a fall and the public’s easily fickle nature were better captured in other, more galvanizing plays of his (especially another of his also set in ancient Rome, Julius Caesar), but they’re served well here nonetheless.
Ralph Fiennes is a dynamic actor with a diamond hard shell that’s perfect for his Coriolanus character (though the charisma seems just a bit sparse later in the film at moments when he’s allegedly mesmerized the entire squadron). Gerard Butler has charisma and presence to spare as Aufidius, but his natural Scottish dialect doesn’t always traverse easily over the lines, and screenwriter Logan takes away his moving speech from the play’s conclusion. The film’s triumphant performance is by Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus’ hawkish, martial-minded mother Volumnia, the character on whom the play’s climax turns. She figures in almost all of the best scenes, and if the film has any memorable soliloquies, they’re hers. Brian Cox brings an upbeat spirit and natural pride as the supportive senator Menenius. Jessica Chastain as the soft-spoken wife of Coriolanus is the polar opposite of Redgrave’s character, more willing to take her husband as is than propel him into an office that could bring about his downfall. James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson are wonderfully viperous as they change public opinion with a few well chosen epithets and spin the web that catches their enemy so skillfully before realizing they’ve created a monster they can’t control.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 has been faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Contrast is pretty consistently milky throughout the presentation limiting sharpness (though details in close-ups are better than average) and often giving the image a very dated-looking quality. Color is handled well, and flesh tones are entirely natural. Black levels are only average. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes a very enveloping soundscape during the film’s opening battle sequences where firepower and explosions will rock the windows of your viewing environment. The mix also delivers the dialogue with precision in the center channel. Ilan Eskeri’s dominating music is used sparsely and well increasing dramatic thrust and bringing forth suspense when needed without showy extravagance.
The audio commentary is provided by actor-director Ralph Fiennes. Though he imparts lots of information about shooting conditions and has such admiration for the actors, he does fall victim to describing not only what we’re seeing but also goes into what characters are thinking and feeling. He also loves some lines of other actors so much that he repeats them himself. Still, it’s the best bonus on the disc which fans will want to hear.
“The Making of Coriolanus” is a regrettably brief 5 ¾-minute set of brief interviews with actors Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and Gerard Butler talking about their roles and the production. It’s in 480i.
There are promo trailers for My Week with Marilyn, The Iron Lady, and The Artist.
The second disc in the set is the DVD copy of the movie.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Not one of the more popular or frequently performed or filmed of Shakespeare’s plays, Coriolanus nevertheless comes to the screen with the basic story intact acted by a host of extremely talented performers who do the work justice.