I recently had the opportunity to watch Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, a modern adaptation of the Shakespeare Tragedy. Set in the fictional Eastern European military republic of Rome, Ralph Fiennes plays the title character who returns victorious from battle with the Volscians only to be betrayed by members of the Roman elite who turn the starving people of Rome against the prickly military commander. Betrayed and exiled, Coriolanus flees Rome and goes to join forces with his old enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). Nominally accepting the leadership of Aufidius, Coriolanus marches on Rome.

The film is visually impressive and well-acted, but I found it lacking nonetheless. One of Fiennes’ stylistic decisions is to keep the Shakespearean language as best he is able. To my ear it was a jarring disconnect between the updated technology and appearance and the antiquated language. In many ways it kept the movie feeling more like a play than a blockbuster (if artistically done) movie. Perhaps that was the point and I know many people who adore that choice though I found it off-putting.

I am more of a traditionalist in this regard. If the choice had been to keep the traditional names and language, I expect the movie to go the whole way to making it traditional; conversely, if the choice had been to update the setting (which was done very well), then I would have expected updated language and names. Other people may argue that such artistic license would defeat the purpose of the movie, which was to remake Coriolanus. My answer is that seamlessly updating the language and names while keeping the plot no more ruins Coriolanus than does providing guns and tanks and a t.v. channel dedicated to the proceedings of the Senate. Leaving the language and names to me felt like a modern adaptation half-completed and I left the movie wishing that Fiennes had chosen one or the other route.

Nonetheless, I do not regret seeing Coriolanus. Though I would not likely re-watch it, it is still a good movie and well worth watching.

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