As a first-time film director, Ralph Fiennes updates Shakespeare's Coriolanus into a brutal tale of modern warfare (think The Hurt Locker, which shares a cinematographer in Barry Ackroyd) with no damage to the Bard's bruising poetry. Neat trick. Shot in Belgrade, Serbia, the film pits Fiennes' Gen. Caius Martius, a.k.a. Coriolanus, against the marauding Voluscian army, led by Aufidius (Gerard Butler, as comfy with verse as he is in battle). But Coriolanus has a greater enemy: the public. He won't cater to them by doing sound bites on talk shows. His trophy wife, Virgilia (the luminous Jessica Chastain), can't soften him. That job is left to his mother, Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), whose bond with her son is near incestuous. Fiennes, as star and commander, pulls off a triumph. But Redgrave's towering performance is a tour de force that carries the film to glory. When Coriolanus' hot temper results in a break with home and family and a union with Aufidius, the world is cracked beyond healing. Purists may holler that Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan have cut the Bard's second-longest play into two tense hours onscreen, but the power of the piece is undeniable.
From The Archives Issue 1149: February 2, 2012