Sometimes I think there are reasons why some Shakespeare plays remain largely unknown among his vast repertoire – I have never read Coriolanus or seen it performed, but assuming this is a fairly faithful adaptation in terms of the text itself, it’s just…not that interesting. Caius Martius (Ralph Fiennes, who also directs) is a great military leader in Rome (here modernized in everything but language, and acting styles to some degree) whose contempt for anyone not born patrician makes him no friend of the commoners rioting over their lack of food. After a successful war against the invading Volscian army, he’s granted the honorific “Coriolanus” and encouraged to run for the consul, which he does, even briefly gaining the support of the commoners before a pair of conniving tribunes double-cross him and, with the support of the crowd, call for his banishment. He joins the Volsci, becoming the right-hand man of his former blood enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to attack Rome, until his wife and mother (Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave) beg him to stop.
All of the twists and turns in the plot seem to come out of nowhere, with people changing sides or points of view at the drop of a hat. The script is probably abbreviated from Shakespeare’s play (the film runs just over two hours, about an hour less than most Shakespeare done in full), which might explain some of the disjointedness, but unfortunately it also feels longer than it is. It’s hard to relate to Coriolanus, who has a highly developed sense of honor but is also a total dick a good portion of the time – his shifts from speechifying the commoners to get their support to denouncing them as unworthy to vote are practically bipolar, and so is the crowd’s instant reversals from distrust to support to anger. These may all be problems inherent to the source material, but the overwrought and unintentionally comical acting styles in this section don’t do anything to help it.