Netflix Movie of the Week #11: Coriolanus

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The Bard may not have spent much time playing Call of Duty, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the 2011 film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known-but-still-better-than-I-could-do works, Coriolanus. Coriolanus follows the rise and ultimate fall of Roman general Coriolanus (Fiennes) as he is betrayed and banished from his homeland. In anger, he turns to his sworn enemy, the Volscian general Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to help him avenge his punishment. The film, which has been adapted to modern times and is set in modern-day Rome, is director and star Ralph Fiennes’ first time in the director’s chair. Fiennes obviously set out to bring the story’s ever-present violence and betrayal to an audience that perhaps doesn’t connect with the more subtle elements of the Bard’s works.

And this film is certainly anything but subtle. The performances, production, and cinematography all work to heighten the tension, and I can safely say that it’s one of the more intensely-acted films I’ve seen in recent years. Though, from a pair of leading men best known as Lord Voldemort and Leonidas, what else could I expect? It’s been said that no actor could ever play Shakespeare’s words as well as they are written, but Fiennes and Butler certainly come pretty close. The cinematography looks great, and really lends itself to the intensity of the plot.

The film’s being set in the present-day definitely makes the incredibly complex Shakespearian verse clear and relatable. The only real fault I could find with this movie had to do with some plot points that seemed pretty out of place in the modern adaptation. It’s a little far-fetched to see soldiers dressed in full modern military gear running from room to room gunning down tactical targets like something out of a video game while calling each other “knaves.” In one scene, Coriolanus and Aufidius drop their weapons, have their men step back, and have themselves a good-old-fashioned knife fight, mono-a-mono.  Nitpicky hangups aside, Fiennes makes the plot flow smoothly and keeps things easy to follow.

Adapting a Shakespeare play to the modern era may seem, at this point, a tired cliché. Over the years, Hollywood has thrown at us dozens of less than phenomenal adaptations, perhaps most notably director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo & Juliet, starring a (shockingly) baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. But, although many of the problems that have plagued other modern-day adaptations can be found in Coriolanus, this particular adaptation manages to stand out for its intense cast and generally top-notch direction. It’s certainly worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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