Just looking at the poster to this movie, you know that it’s probably going to be hardcore and violent. Look here’s another one too: You’ve got a person usually known to be a badass in his movies, Gerard Butler, and you’ve got someone who usually is known for either playing Voldemort, or some weird indie movies that I, frankly, was not a fan of *cough* ENGLISH PATIENT WAS 65 HOURS LONG! THE CONSTANT GARDENER SUCKED AND TAUGHT US NOTHING AT ALL ABOUT GARDENING! *cough* *cough* ….sorry about that. But seriously, Ralph Fiennes? Not known for being a hardcore badass, just a sort of whiny (but definitely still awesome!) wizard, or an indie darling (hate that word). C’mon, you can’t expect a guy named RALPH, who actually tries to get us to pronounce his name RAIPH (ray-phh) to be hardcore. Nice try, RALPH. But anyways, so he actually dove into the directing chair for this one too, and hoo boy, is it ever a different experience. But check this out – its actually pretty awesome, too.
So RALPH is working with Shakespeare here, messing with it somethin’ fierce, but not in a strange, somewhat homo-erotic way like with that Romeo + Juliet movie we had quite a few years back, but by making the story more modern, and about war. Coriolanus is one of the lesser known Shakespeare plays, certainly one I hadn’t ever really heard of, yet for some reason, whenever I tried telling people about the movie, I always wanted to yell “CORIOLANUS!” and throw my fist in the air when I said the title. And yeah, after seeing it, that was definitely an appropriate reaction. So this movie is about a war, in Rome, except not during Shakespeare’s time, in our modern times now. The opening scenes actually reminded me of something like Tiananmen Square, which is probably something RALPH might have intended, because its still something reasonably fresh in the memory of any history buff, and with all the turbulent times we are living in now, we could all see something like that happening again someday. We are thrown into this conflict to give us powerful images, because we are about to be introduced to a powerful figure – that of Caius Martius, played by ol’ Ralph himself. But not the fancy boy priss that we might have seen him as in other movies – as a violent, uncompromising man that mostly just lives with war. We see this right from the start that he isn’t well liked by his people, yet, gosh darn it, he’s still a war hero. He’s constantly fought back those pesky Volscians, lead by the even more pesky Tullus Aufidius, played by Gerard Butler, channeling a little bit of Leonidas here in his portrayal. And yeah the names are weird, what do you expect, its freakin’ Shakespeare. But we are shown instantly that Caius isn’t liked or really respected, perhaps a grudging respect from his people but he isn’t gonna win any popularity contests – he’s sort of like a violent, hard-to-talk-to Colin Powell – yeah he’s a war hero and hes killed a lot of people for us, but you certainly wouldn’t want to have a beer with him.
So the first part of the movie is mostly just to establish that Caius and Tullus don’t like each other much, and Caius is constantly at war not just with the Volscians, but with his own people as well. It probably doesn’t help that he’s, kind of, kinda a dick. Oh yeah one more thing about this movie, and why it probably isn’t for everyone – we got the original Shakespeare dialogue here folks. While the setting is modernized, the language certainly is not. This makes for some very awesome speeches that we might not QUITE understand, but because it has such good direction, it all works. But anyways, the first half is riddled with some really great actors for supporting actors, but honestly, we don’t really need them. I think they included the beautiful Jessica Chastain as his wife just so we had something to look at, because honestly she’s about the only girl you see in this movie. This movie isn’t about her. It is, like many Shakespeare plays, about one tragic “hero”‘s fall from grace. But the problem (the awesome problem) with Coriolanus is, he wasn’t ever much of a hero to begin with. Maybe that’s why the story fascinated ol’ Ralph so much.
That’s one of the things that Caius, who by the way later takes the name Coriolanus, hence the name of the movie, yells at his people when they just never seem to warm up to the guy. And with a face like that, if you can believe it! Poor guy. So like I said, first half is about Caius (Coriolanus) trying to win over his people and failing just, just miserably every time, much to the chagrin of his longtime counselor Menenius, played with great bravado by Brian Cox, certainly no stranger to movies like this and a fantastic casting choice. Well, to the surprise of no one, finally the people get sick of his crap, and decide to banish him. This creates what is arguably the best scene in the entire movie, with Coriolanus yelling spiteful thing after spiteful thing at these ungrateful lickspittles that just want to cast him out after all he’s done for them – even saying something like this to them as he’s walking out of the public council room where they finally decide they are done with him –
“You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!” (I found this here)
That was so mean I figured it deserved it’s own paragraph, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg on hardcore quotes from this movie, I swear I’ll try not to get too excited and waste more real estate on my blog by posting more quotes aside from that one on here though. So anyways, things are not so well with our ol buddy Coriolanus halfway through the movie, but then, any chump that reads the back of the box (and god, aren’t those terrible? The life of a blurb writer, pretty sure I’d go ahead and toss myself off a building before I was one of those, but hey heres my blurb for this movie – ITS LIKE SHAKESPEARE ON STEROIDS! YEAH! CHECK IT OUT PEOPLE! STEROIDS! SIX THUMBS UP!”) will discover that Coriolanus goes over to the side of his enemy because he was cast out by his people. But man, if the way he does it isn’t brilliant. I realize this is Ralph borrowing from Shakespeare, but man, the banishment scene is incredible, and honestly made me nervous. There are few movies where I get chills over the dialogue (Take Shelter was a recent rare example), but this scene…man. Proof that in only Voldemort’s second directing debut, the guy has a love and respect for Shakespeare that many would have gotten entirely wrong, I can’t even imagine this in the hands of some hack like Michael Bay (but I bet it would have more helicopter explosions and things going FWAAAASH! AND BOOOOOOM! in it if he took the reins!), but even for all his fancy boy roles, this was obviously a labor of love for Ralph, and he knocked it out of the park.
But I digress (as I often freaking do, sorry). So he goes to join up with Gerard Butler’s character, who we actually don’t see a whole lot of in the movie, because this is definitely focused on only one character, again like a lot of Shakespeare’s work. However we do get to hear him deliver some great lines, like this one –
but that was obviously said before Coriolanus decides to abandon his people and join the enemy. The second half of the movie is mostly an intense sort of mental battle between Coriolanus and Tullus, but it doesn’t really surprise anyone that Coriolanus starts running the show soon after. Say what you will about the guys social skills, dude knows how to make war. We get other fairly epic scenes (this movie and play are full of them, c’mon how many times do I gotta say, its SHAKESPEARE) where his wife, kid (also unimportant to the story AND Coriolanus, which was why I never even felt to mention him until this scene) and Menenius come to him (Menenius separately from the wife and kid) pleading with him to come back to his people, they still love him, n such. A man like Coriolanus has far too much pride to come back to that, and while we are pretty sure he won’t do it, this is a testament to Voldemort’s acting ability – there might have been a few brief moments where we think maybe, just maybe, if he wasn’t the cocky windbag that he became, he’d go back to his family. But of course it doesn’t pan out like that. He and Tullus eventually do come back to make war and bring furious anger upon his former people, and things aren’t going too well. His former people have no choice but to try and create a peace with Tullus and his pesky Volscians, it’s the only way. This is something Tullus wants but we aren’t entirely sure if Coriolanus does, because man, no more war? Well then what the heck is he gonna DO all day?! So the peace comes about, with the loss of many, including Menenius, who, realizing he has failed in his quest to make Coriolanus the great man he really thought he could be, offs himself. We wouldn’t have a Shakespeare play without at least ONE suicide after all, cmon now. Shakespeare…pssh, more like…SUICIDE….speare….yeah. Anyways, so toward the end we are kinda wondering, ok, whats next for Coriolanus? Well, honestly, if you really think about what this man has become and what he was in the first place, if there’s no war, he doesn’t really have a place in this war. His character at the end of the movie sort of reminds me of Tommy Lee Jones from No Country For Old Men, well, except, you know, Tommy Lee Jones didn’t kill a bunch of people. But, basically, hes a dinosaur. He doesn’t have a place in the world, and he can either bow out gracefully, although he sorta, HA, sorta burned that bridge with his family, if you know what I’m sayin’, so what does he have left? The answer is pretty obvious: he needs to die.
And die he does, in a pretty damned epic way, fitting of his character, fighting about eight other dudes with knives and offing most of them before Tullus finally runs him through. It’s a fitting, epic, violent end to a character who never really fit in with a peaceful world anyways. The unceremonious thump of his body on the concrete is the last scene we are treated to in this movie, and its pitch perfect. It’s how it should end, unceremoniously, for this violent and misunderstood man. I might not have established how violent this movie is until now, but believe me, it is. It isn’t graphic, but the implied violence and menace in Coriolanus’ character, some of the war scenes thrown in for good measure and appeal to the MEN, and that knife fight at the end are certainly intense. Like I said, this movie isn’t for everyone, but damn if it isn’t brilliant for someone (probably a man, I’m just sayin!) who wants a different sort of violent action tale to watch on a saturday night. Check it out, and if it gets you into Shakespeare like it should, well then, I’m pretty sure RALPH did his job for his second directing debut.