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Review of "Coriolanus" (2012)

Updated on June 4, 2012


Shot in 2010 and released in 2012, Coriolanus is a film adaptation to William Shakespeare's 17th century play of the same name. It stars Ralph Fiennes as the main character and his debut as director. It brought critical acclaim to the cast and Fiennes and was nominated for the BAFTA and Berlin Golden Bear awards. The film keeps Shakespeare's original lines from the play yet the setting is in modern day Rome, who is at war with rebel forces, lead by Tullus Aufidius, played by Gerard Butler.


The plot follows a war hero, Caius Martius, who bravely leads a strike against his bitter enemy, Tullus Aufidius, leader of the rebel forces. The two men face off in a one-on-one knife fight that is cut short when they both flee after an explosion. Tullus, looking back on the several encounters he's had with Caius, swears one day to end the man's life. Caius returns home to an adoring family and proud political leaders, who would like to see Caius counsel. Caius hates the public, however, and it shows. Two sneaky and plotting politicians exploit this fact and seek to expose the man to the public, to further their gains. The newly dubbed "Coriolanus," a new surname given to Caius in honor of his service, refuses to address the senate of Rome or show his wounds to woo the public.

He begrudgingly goes to the public and asks, as well as he can, to be consul. They support him vocally, until he leaves and, swaying the peoples' minds, the two senators claim he is not worthy. Met by protests outside, quite the scene ensues when Coriolanus attacks one of the senators and is sentenced, at the scene, to death. Afterwards, Menenius, played by the great Brian Cox, appeals to the senators to let him atone for his actions and attitudes. Going on a television broadcast, Coriolanus is banished by the manipulitive senators as an enemy of Rome. Coriolanus forsakes his disloyal country and travels outside his land's boundaries, to seek Tullus. Confronting his once-enemy, Coriolanus offers him his life or his services, and Tullus greets the prospect of using his might in war.

He is welcomed by the men and joins at the lead, heading attacks on Rome. Rome, desperate and fearful of this warrior's wrath, persuade Menenius to beseech Coriolanus, but is denied by threat of death. Depressed and afraid, Meneius commits suicide before Coriolanus' family visits the defector. His mother is successful in her efforts to sway her son; he agree to go to Rome and, instead of rejoin his people, negotiate a peace between the rebels and Romans. He does so, but is considered a traitor, then, by the rebels, who join Tullus in stabbing him to death.


It is a bit difficult to review a film that is pretty much an elaborate taped performance of a Shakespearean play. I can't compliment Fiennes or a screenwriter for eloquent and masterful dialogue, as that was Shakespeare. I can't provide commentary on the underlying themes of the struggle of Caius and the fickle citizens of Rome or the warring between men or the hate of one's enemy. I am unable to critique the depth of the characters, or how the plot played out and whether or not the story, as a whole, is worthwhile, as that belongs to Shakespeare, not Fiennes or John Logan.

But I will say what I can, the acting is fantastic, particularly Fiennes. He plays the cruel yet mistreated war hero perfectly, the contempt and hatred and intensity portrayed to a T. That being said, every moment of the film is dramatic; Caius, every step of the way, is lamenting the people of Rome or his situation or politicians. I don't want to use the word "overacting," but I find it difficult. This movie, as seen in the trailer above, is presented as an epic action film, but it isn't, it's a Shakespearean play, and that is all it is. The knife fight between Fiennes and Butler was the greatest extent to which the action played out. I would have thought that there would be much more action in the movie, especially between the two men.

The best way to criticize the film is to measure to what extent it was successful at applying an ancient story to modern times, while keeping the precise dialogue. The movie could have been made well enough with modern English, but they did make it work well with the original lines, to their credit. Some of the plot was awkward to apply to today, however. For instance, when Coriolanus is sentenced to death by the senator at the riot; the scene would hardly be believable today, even in Rome. Society is a bit different now that hundreds of years have passed, suffice it to say.

Conclusion: With notable performances from Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Fiennes, the film lacks action and possess too much drama and causes one to guess, without being told beforehand, that it really is a Shakespearean play being viewed. Overall, it was done well enough as one could expect keeping the original dialogue and almost exact plot. 7/10


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    • Steve Orion profile image

      Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jade Evans! Indeed, it is worth the watch, especially if you like drama or skillful acting over non-stop action thrill-ride adrenaline rush etc, etc. I can't blame them, really, for playing up the action, I'd do the same, probably.

      Let me know how you like the film once you see it.

    • Jade Evans profile image

      Jade Evans 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Great review. I haven't seen this yet but am keen to, even if it has a few flaws. Interesting the point about the trailer presenting the movie as an 'epic action', reminds me of the 'Million Dollar Baby' trailer being made out to look like 'Rocky'.