The classic legend of honor and betrayal has been astonishingly re-imagined in this exhilarating action thriller that wields a profound relevance for today. Caius Martius 'Coriolanus' (star and director Ralph Fiennes) is a feared and revered Roman General, suddenly pitted against his own city and fellow citizens. Rebelling against the power-hungry designs of his manipulative mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and rejected by his own people, Coriolanus incites a riot that expels him from Rome. The banished hero joins forces with his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to exact his revenge -- and determine his destiny.
Actor-director Ralph Fiennes may not appreciate the comparison, but his modern-dress version of Coriolanus
sometimes plays like William Shakespeare by way of Fight Club
. In this case, Volscian leader Aufidius (Gerald Butler, nicely understated) plays the Tyler Durden role in that his character doubles as a living conscience. Fiennes's bullet-headed, battle-scarred General Caius Martius may be willing to put his life on the line for his people, but he has no interest in actually listening to their concerns, a development that anticipates the Occupy movement. As Rome's food supply dwindles and rioting begins, Martius suspends civil liberties, and heads off to battle against a man he both despises and admires (and Fiennes doesn't shy away from intimations of same-sex attraction). In the script by Gladiator
's John Logan, automatic weaponry replaces swords, contributing to an especially visceral Shakespearean adaptation (Hurt Locker
cinematographer Barry Ackroyd's handheld camera work reinforces the rough-hewn quality). At home, Martius's wary wife (Jessica Chastain) and proud mother (Vanessa Redgrave) fear for his life, while his most ardent supporter, Senator Menenius (Brian Cox, excellent), defends him against his detractors, like Tribune Sicinius (James Nesbitt). Though successful on the battlefield, the political neophyte--now known as Coriolanus--soon finds himself an exile, eventually aligning with Aufidius, but what looks like a turncoat move proves more complicated. If Martius starts out as a Fiennes villain in the vein of Amon Goeth, he gradually transforms from a monster into a man. Too bad politics favors the less complicated types. --Kathleen C. Fennessy