Coriolanus is the directorial debut for Ralph Fiennes, who also stars in the film as the titular character. It’s a straight adaptation of one of the more obscure plays by William Shakespeare, remade here under the framework of a modern action movie. What will be polarizing to some viewers is the movie’s complete use of the bard’s original words in a modern setting. That means the dialogue is completely in iambic pentameter, while the costumes and settings are entirely modern in a fictional city-state of Rome that supposedly exists today. The story is centered around Caius Martius Coriolanus, a decorated Roman general buffeted by political forces beyond his control that lead to his banishment from Rome itself.
Coriolanus possesses a strong cast and the story comes from the pen of William Shakespeare, but I’m not sure the average action fan is going to enjoy sitting through this film. In the commentary, Fiennes reveals he did a stage production of the play in the past and much of the film feels like a play. The obvious exceptions are the war scenes, which look like deleted scenes from Black Hawk Down. This is where the military action comes into play, replete with tanks and rocket launchers. It’s a very odd mixture to say the least and nothing like the staid movie adaptations one associates with Shakespeare’s works.
If one can fully accept the nature of the dialogue, the story itself is quite compelling. Caius Martius is a born soldier, one of Rome’s top warriors from an old and noble family. He defeats the Volscians and their leader, Tullus Aufidius, in a battle that propels him to some fame in Rome. His manipulative mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave, sees an opportunity to push her son into becoming a consul of Rome.
Caius Martius is not a natural-born politician and his arrogant ways lead to political machinations by his enemies that banish the general from Rome. So the good soldier is banished right as he is about to become a consul, ripping his life to shreds. Feeling lost, Caius Martius goes to his former enemies, the Volscians, and offers his services to them as a soldier and general. The story then descends into typical Greek Tragedy at that point.
Coriolanus is a fine movie if you enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and can tolerate the dialogue. It will be more difficult to enjoy for a mass audience, though the acting is top-notch.
Running 123 minutes, the movie is encoded in AVC on a BD-25 at below-average bitrates. Created from a digital intermediate, the gritty cinematography does not hold up that well on Blu-ray in certain moments. Compression problems are a minor issue, mostly in the difficult scenes of war that include fast-moving action and copious amounts of smoke.
Made in Serbia, production quality is a step below the average Hollywood production and it shows in the poor lighting of several scenes. Grain and noise threaten to overwhelm the picture quality in darker moments, which combined with the sub-par video encode creates some very questionable-looking scenes.
Shot on film, the Blu-ray has not been filtered to any degree. Excellent detail occasionally shows up in close-ups, but there are moments of softness that look to some degree due to poor camerawork. The inconsistent sharpness and black levels reduce this disc’s potential rating. For a recent film, the picture quality is not going to win any awards and it’s distinctly average at best.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track is a surprisingly dynamic affair at times, particularly in the military skirmishes that dominate the beginning of the movie. Dialogue is always intelligible but the mix really shines in the heat of battle. Glass breaking, explosions and gunfire fill the surround channels in the style of most modern action films and enhance the warfare on the screen. The soundfields of the battle scenes are as engaging and explosive as any Hollywood blockbuster.
There are more subtle uses of the sound design that enhance and support the mood of certain scenes. The murmuring of the crowd grows in unison throughout the soundstage in a key scene and is used to show the people’s disapproval of Coriolanus as he tries to become consul. Much of the movie is a careful drama, so the audio naturally pulls back from bombast in the quieter dramatic portions and lets the actor’s careful speeches take precedence.
Extra features are skimpy but do have some value in fully explaining the story. Included is a five-minute featurette on the making of Coriolanus, with brief clips of interviews from all the principal actors about their roles and the play. It is presented only in standard-definition resolution. More informative is the feature-length commentary from Ralph Fiennes, who breaks each scene down and gives notes on the production history during it. He clearly loves the original play and talks in detail about the key points it makes. After listening to it I had a much better understanding of what the movie was attempting to say. The commentary even cleared up some of the more difficult storylines to understand in the film. Also included are three trailers in standard-definition.
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