Directed By: Ralph Fiennes

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, and Paul Jesson

It's hard to jazz up Shakespeare these days.  After a good 400 years, there aren't too many new ways you can bring his works to life unless you're donning a cape and hammer like Marvel's Thor.  Aside from my cheap references to The Avengers, Shakespeare's works have been done to death both on stage and on screen.  It's rare that someone breaks new ground with these old works.  When Ralph Fiennes decided to tackle Coriolanus, I thought it would be just another Shakespeare adaptation to the big screen.  This man worked his magic though and put together something quite impressive.

In present day Rome, a food crisis is devastating the city.  Thousands go hungry as the military withholds grain from the commoners.  Riots ensue, and the people show hatred for one man in particular — Caius Martius (Fiennes), a general in the military whom they believe does not care about the people.  When a riot breaks out at a grain depot and Martius's troops arrive on the scene, the general has no problem showing his reciprocal ill will toward the people.

Because of the ongoing food crisis, a conflict has arisen between the Roman government and the neighboring Volsci people.  Led by Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), the Volscian army poses a significant threat to Rome.  A sworn blood enemy of Aufidius, Martius is sent to engage him on the battlefield.  The battle is bloody and brutal, but Martius comes out victorious.  Upon his return, his mother Volumnia (Vanessa Redgrave), his wife Virgilia (Jessica Chastain), and his dear friend Senator Menenius (Brian Cox) lead a celebration to honor Martius for his triumphs on the battlefield.  The general is given the name "Coriolanus" in honor of his efforts in war.

With her son's military accomplishments, Volumnia believes he would do well in politics.  She convinces Coriolanus to run for consul.  The Senate easily votes in favor of his appointment as consul as do the people of Rome.  However, Senators Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt) are not so interested in seeing Coriolanus come to power as consul.  With this in mind, the two scheming senators incite riots among the commoners against Coriolanus and his looming confirmation as consul.  A war now rages between the former general and the people for whom he cares nothing whatsoever.

Coriolanus is an incredibly powerful and imaginative adaptation of Shakespeare's play to the big screen.  Ralph Fiennes turns a tale of old into something both modern and gripping.  This is one of those movies that I completely underestimated.  From the moment it started, I was hooked.  Within five minutes of the opening credits, I sat up on my couch.  I got my act together, and I gave this film my undivided attention. 

The story is timeless.  The tension is palpable.  The action is brutal.  How often do you get to see Gerard Butler and Ralph Fiennes beating the holy hell out of each other and quoting Shakespeare as they do it?  How often do you get a cast that includes the likes of Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, and Jessica Chastain in one movie?  In terms of the plot and the writing within the film, it's Shakespeare.  Nothing more needs to be said.  With creative direction from Ralph Fiennes, great action sequences, and an incredibly talented cast, you simply can't go wrong.  Coriolanus makes Shakespeare interesting again.

The creativity it takes to put together a film like this is incredible.  What's equally incredible is the acting talent Fiennes has assembled for the film.  Fiennes alone is magnificent as the title character.  Fresh from his role as "He Who Must Not Be Named" in the Harry Potter series, Fiennes delivers another iconic performance as the evil badass Coriolanus.  He's deliciously devilish, and it's clear that he's enjoying his performance.  As Tullus Aufidius, Gerard Butler gives us the action we deserve.  The 300 star does what he does best on screen.  Whether wielding a knife or a gun, he's kicking ass and taking names, and we can't help but love him for it.

Coriolanus has some great talent that's not on the battlefield as well, two of whom rose to prominence from their work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England.  Veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave delivers a delightful performance as the cunning and manipulative mother of General Martius.  Her character Volumnia adds some real authenticity to the film.  Despite the modernization of this adaptation, Redgrave's presence makes the film truly feel like a Shakespeare production.  Whenever she speaks, it couldn't be clearer that we're dealing with a tragedy from the great playwright. 

Brian Cox is equally enjoyable.  An experienced actor in Shakespeare productions as well, he brings his best as Senator Menenius.  I enjoyed his performance for a different reason however. Cox manages to bring out the wily and crafty qualities of Menenius, a character similar to all his other roles as baddies in the past.  As Martius's wife Virgilia, Jessica Chastain continues to add to her résumé with some great roles that highlight her versatility as an actress.  She brings a soft grace to the film that can definitely be appreciated, especially in the midst of warfare and corruption.

In Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes has crafted a Shakespearean masterpiece.  I'm not a guy who walks around reading Shakespeare.  I haven't delved into his works since high school in all honesty, but I respect what Fiennes has done with this film.  He's turned a lesser tale from the great playwright into a dark, gritty story of corruption at its worst.  He's given us extreme brutality and brilliant insanity.  He's made this Shakespeare tragedy something we all can enjoy.  Coriolanus gets a 0.03% rating.  This is definitely a hidden gem worth checking out with a wine cooler in hand.