Following in the footsteps of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, for example, Coriolanus puts Shakespeare in a modern setting. Under the direction of veteran actor Ralph Fiennes, making his directorial debut, the material is complex and sometimes Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan (Hugo) fail to keep everything entirely comprehensible.
However, for the most part this is a tough, no-nonsense approach to a classic work, with assured direction from Fiennes behind the camera and an unforgettable performance in front of it. Even when some of the supporting performances don't quite seem to work in tandem with others – the likes of Gerard Butler, Jessica Chastain, and Brian Cox don't quite seem to fit or feel comfortable delivering the alien dialogue – it is Fiennes' magnetic presence that lends conviction to it all. Luckily he is in the majority of the scenes so while it may stumble here and there, Fiennes is there to hold it together.
The story is set in "A Place Known As Rome," which is actually more akin to Belgrade, Serbia (where it was filmed). Ralph Fiennes plays Caius Martius, a soldier and powerful figure who hates the Roman people for the way they view and treat him, as well as his enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). After he gains the title "Coriolanus," the people rise up against him and banish him from the city. He then enacts his revenge.
The language of Shakespeare will likely be unfamiliar to most modern movie goers and it is, indeed, jarring to hear it spoken in a modern setting, especially a ruthless warfare setting like this. But through sheer conviction to the idea of marrying Shakespeare with the present day – transferring the ideas to relevant issues of our here and now etc – it works pretty well. And as the film progresses and we settle more into the rhythm and style of it – aided by the fact that the characters are wearing regular clothes, speaking on mobile phones, driving modern cars – the strangeness starts to feel not so strange.
The film is a tad on the long side, with a number of baggy scenes that could have been trimmed or removed completely, and much like another recent Shakespeare-related project, Roland Emmerich's ludicrous Anonymous, some of the performances don't seem to gel all that well. But ultimately Fiennes is one in a long line of first-time directors who has delivered a more than competent and actually quite brave first effort.