A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while it might be tempting to introduce teens to Shakespeare with this movie -- Coriolanus is adapted from one of The Bard's lesser-known plays -- the movie's somewhat modern wartime setting means that there's lots of strong, bloody violence, including guns and shootings, knife fights, hand-to-hand fights, and dead bodies. One character commits suicide by slitting a wrist. In fact, it's probably the most violent Shakespeare movie adaptation since Roman Polanski's 1971 Macbeth, and the handheld camerawork only adds to the general chaos and unease. Characters are also sometimes seen drinking and smoking in a background way. All of that said, this is a powerful work with great performances, and it could turn on older teens who can handle the content to the rest of Shakespeare's work.
What's the story?
When Caius Martius Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes) returns home from the war, he's treated like a hero, even though he doesn't feel like one. Nonetheless, he reluctantly agrees to run for Roman consul -- but two tribunes, Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt), denounce him and encourage the Romans to cast him out. Left with nothing, Coriolanus joins forces with his greatest enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), and plans an attack on Rome. After Menenius (Brian Cox) fails to coax him home, Coriolanus' aged mother (Vanessa Redgrave), his wife (Jessica Chastain), and his young son (Harry Fenn) brave the dangers of the front lines to try and appeal to Coriolanus' humanity -- and hopefully save Rome.
Is it any good?
Ralph Fiennes carries this off brilliantly. Like Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, and Kenneth Branagh before him, Fiennes now takes on the daunting duty of directing and performing in a big-screen Shakespeare adaptation. Even more daring, he tackles one of Shakespeare's lesser-known works and adapts it to modern times, using guns, war, and CNN-style TV coverage. It all works extremely well, with the exception of the ugly hand-held cinematography designed to make the war footage look more chaotic but that really only looks jerky.
Oddly, the Bard's dialogue fits well in the modern setting; even the TV pundits sound perfectly natural. Even the questionable casting of Butler pays off, as he plays bloodthirsty bad guy Aufidius with all of the arrogance and gusto he usually brings to his heroic roles. Fiennes is especially magnetic, but even he can't keep his scenes from being stolen by the magnificent Redgrave; for her, this is a crowning achievement in an already great career.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Coriolanus' violence. Is it necessary to get the film's plot and themes across? How do you think it might have been different if had been set further in the past?
Is Coriolanus a hero? Is he a good role model? Why should we root for him?
Do you think adapting Shakespeare to a period of modern warfare works? Does updating a book or play's setting make it more accessible, even if the language is the same?
- In theaters: December 2, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: May 29, 2012
- Cast: Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave
- Director: Ralph Fiennes
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some bloody violence
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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