Author: John Logan/William Shakespeare
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:After winning a major battle victory, a warrior is thrust into politics by manipulative friends and his domineering mother.
Synopsis:In a parallel universe where the Roman Empire dominates the world of 2009, a group of protesters gather at the docks of Rome. Led by CASSIUS and TAMORA, they discuss executing a warrior known as Caius Martius. Although he’s done good things for Rome, Martius’s disdain for common peasants makes him a threat to Roman life. As the protestors debate the topic, silver-haired SENATOR MENENIUS strolls into the crowd, arguing that they should take back their words and decision. When Cassius and Tamora disagree, CAIUS MARTIUS — riding a white horse — leads modern riot police into the crowd. Martius mocks the crowd as they clam up at the sight of him and the police. As the crowd disperses, Martius and Menenius go to a Pentagon-like military command center in the heart of Rome. GENERAL COMINIUS briefs them on a situation with Volscian soldiers trying to invade Roman-occupied Corioles. Martius knows their leader and agrees to lead a battle against Volsces.
The Volscian leader, TULLUS AUFIDIUS, rallies their troops. A politician announces that Martius will lead the assault against him. Aufidius tells him that if he and Martius ever meet again, one or the other will die. At Martius’s villa, his 10-year-old son YOUNG MARTIUS plays in the garden. He catches a butterfly, then tears off his wings. Martius’s wife, VIRGILIA, watches, disturbed. She talks with Martius’s mother, VOLUMNIA, about the upcoming war. Virgilia is concerned about what will happen if Martius dies. Volumnia would rather have him die in battle than not fight. Menenius arrives with news about Martius, that the Corioles battle will end quickly. He wants to ease Virgilia’s mind, but she turns on the TV and sees a news station broadcasting violent images of war.
Martius and TITUS LARTIUS lead the battle through the streets of Corioles, into a large hotel. Martius proves his worth through fearlessness and unchecked aggression. As he leads soldiers up the stairs, he comes face to face with Aufidius. Both men drop their weapons and fight hand-to-hand, until a bomb causes the ceiling to collapse. Clouded by thick plaster dust, Aufidius’s soldiers pull him away. They disappear. After the battle, Cominius and Titus admire Martius’s bravery and that he single-handedly caused the Volscians to retreat. They believe his bravery will be rewarded. At a politico bar in downtown Rome, Cassius discusses his disdain for Martius with tribunes BRUTUS and SICINIUS. Menenius arrives, and Cassius slips out quickly. Menenius lectures them on the people needing to respect Martius, but Brutus and Sicinius argue that Martius should be more respectful of commoners.
Menenius meets Volumnia and Virgilia for Martius’s homecoming. Menenius is surprised he’s coming back so quickly, considering the injuries he’s sustained. Virgilia is horrified at the idea of him sustaining injuries, but Volumnia loves the idea — it’s a record of his love of country. At the Senate, Cominius introduces Martius as Coriolanus (as he’ll now be known). He is injured, but he can walk. After the welcoming ceremony, Volumnia and Menenius immediately encourage Coriolanus to use his hero status to gain some sort of political office. Meanwhile, Sicinius and Brutus predict that Coriolanus will run for office, and they decide to use that to plot Coriolanus’s undoing. They watch Menenius offer Coriolanus’s name for the new Consul. Cominius sings his praises, but Coriolanus cuts him off, saying he doesn’t want people hearing all the details of his battle scars.
Sicinius and Brutus seize on this. They interview Coriolanus and suggest that it’s his duty to retell his story, and show his injuries, to everyone. Coriolanus disagrees and gets angry. Menenius cuts the meeting short and tries to educate Coriolanus on how to relate to the peasants. Whether Coriolanus likes it or not, he needs to court their votes if he’s going to get elected. They go to a marketplace, not unlike Times Square, and Coriolanus glad-hands the commoners. Many of them seem to like him, even after Cassius and Tamora attempt to anger Coriolanus. Sicinius and Brutus agree to speak on behalf of Coriolanus, but as soon as he and Menenius leave, the tribunes go to work raking Coriolanus’s name through the mud. The peasants turn against Coriolanus rapidly.
Coriolanus learns from Titus that Aufidius has assembled a new army in Antium, and that he’s sending threats in Coriolanus’s direction. Coriolanus mutters that he wished he had reason to attack him. An unruly mob gathers outside the Senate building. Sicinius and Brutus warn Coriolanus of the danger of going into the crowd. They announce that the people have turned against him. Coriolanus goes out into the crowd and hurls insults at the people, captured by TV news crews. Sicinius and Brutus accuse Coriolanus of treason. Menenius convinces an enraged Coriolanus to go home. There, he, Volumnia, and Cominius attempt to calm Coriolanus’s impulsive anger. Meanwhile, Cassius and Tamora try to sell the Senate on Coriolanus’s treasonous behaivor. They vote to banish him from Rome. Coriolanus appears on TV to defend himself, but he quickly gets so angry, the few people who supported him before have now turned against him.
Ejected from Rome, Coriolanus makes the long journey to Antium. He sneaks through the well-guarded city until he reaches Aufidius’s apartment building. He stealthily gets past the guards and breaks into Aufidius’s apartment. Masked, they do not recognize him. Coriolanus humbly apologizes to Aufidius and the Volscian people before revealing his true identity. They reluctantly agree to team up against Rome. Titus and Menenius are terrified when they discover Coriolanus is now part of the Volscian forces. Menenius goes to Antium to talk some sense into Coriolanus, who threatens to kill him. Defeated, Menenius leaves. Guilty over creating this monster, Menenius commits suicide.
Later, Virgilia, Volumnia, and Young Martius visit Coriolanus. Volumnia makes an impassioned plea for Coriolanus to come to his senses and not attack Rome with the Volscian forces. Coriolanus attempts to stand up to her, but she penetrates his cloud of rage, and he realizes she’s right. He negotiates a peace treaty with Cominius, then heads off to Aufidius to inform him of the good news. However, Aufidius already knows all about it — and he considers Coriolanus a wimp for allowing himself to be swayed so easily by a couple of teary-eyed women. Coriolanus approaches with the signed treaty, but he knows the moment he lays eyes on Aufidius and his men that it’s all over. Aufidius and his men empty their guns on Coriolanus. Amazingly, he’s not dead. As Aufidius approaches to deliver the deathblow, Coriolanus reaches for his own knife and slits his own throat.
At the stables, Volumnia — dressed in black, in mourning — waits for a groom to bring out Coriolanus’s horse. She shoots the horse in the head.
Comments:Coriolanus attempts to redress the Shakespeare play as a sleek, modern action movie. The results are mixed: on one hand, it boasts some novel concepts for modernizing the play and contains a few nifty action sequences; on the other hand, the story has been trimmed down to such an extent that the story moves at a breakneck pace and none of the characters have much depth. Plus, the audience that an action-packed bloodbath like this will attract would instantly lose interest upon seeing the word “Shakespeare.” All of this adds up to the script meriting a pass.
The extended battle sequences that dominate the first act are effective in delivering balls-to-the-wall action. However, the action of the first act gives way to the rambling politics of the second act. This could feasibly work, but the rapid pace of the scenes cause most of them to feel redundant: there are three or four scenes depicting Coriolanus’s temper tantrums, three or four scenes showing the public’s dislike of him, three or four scenes of various Romans plotting behind his back, all leading up to the third act twist of Coriolanus’s banishment and teaming with Aufidius. Streamlining these scenes in the second act could have made Coriolanus’s inability to connect with commoners tragic instead of tedious. The third act brings back some of the action and has some interesting twists for those unfamiliar with the play, but the brutal death of Coriolanus feels like a missed opportunity. Rather than mourning a victim of crass manipulation, audiences will more likely cheer the death of a man who’s portrayed as whiny and obnoxious rather than a pathetic puppet.
Because of the rapid-fire second act, Coriolanus veers between melancholy brooding and temper tantrums. The complexity needed to make the third act effective simply isn’t there. Similarly, rushing through the story makes the supporting characters appear shallow and undeveloped. The control and manipulation exhibited by Volumnia and Menenius is downplayed, and their true motives are never revealed. Virgilia barely exists as a character, so it’s a wonder she’s even here. Cassius, Tamora, Sicinius, and Brutus are all interchangeable, one-dimensional schemers.
What’s left is a Shakespeare adaptation that will please neither Shakespeare purists nor action-movie fans. There is a slim possibility that a high-caliber A-list cast can elevate this subpar adaptation into something worth watching, but without that, Coriolanus is doomed.