I'm kind of a Shakespeare geek. But only kind of. What I mean is that I inherited this massive tome of his works – complete with photos of famous British actors performing the roles from the 1950s, neat! – and many years ago, while bored, I read through several of his plays. Even the lesser-known ones.
Two seldom-performed plays stood out for me: Measure for Measure and Coriolanus. Amongst all the comedies and tragedies, these two were surprisingly complex and uncategorizable. Coriolanus is usually accepted as one of Shakespeare's late dramas, along with King Lear and The Winter's Tale. These plays, which deal with a main character consumed by bitterness after what he feels are personal betrayals against him, suggest that the Bard himself was going through such a time in his career. There is no evidence for this, but it's a fascinating theory.
In any event, this bitterness and betrayal is certainly felt by the title character of Coriolanus (which, for the record, does rhyme with "anus"), a general in ancient Rome who is a bundle of arrogance, anger, and unlikely integrity. Four centuries later, renowned British thesp/Voldemort Ralph Fiennes makes his feature directorial debut with a Coriolanus updated to 2011, where the ancient Rome of the play becomes "A Place That Calls Itself Rome", according to an opening title card. (Filmed in Serbia and Montenegro, it's not hard to imagine the relatively recent Balkan War as the backdrop for the military action of the story.)
On paper it must have looked like an appropriate setting, since this Coriolanus is a mighty general in a small, war-torn country and thus has access both to the powers that be (i.e. the Roman Senate) and the ordinary folks in the marketplace. But the thing about Shakespeare's play is that a lot of it is based on ancient Roman customs, and a key moment in the drama is centered around a bizarre ritual in which a would-be Senator must first dress in rags and win the approval of the Great Unwashed – something the proud but oddly modest patrician Coriolanus is loathe to do. Although one could imagine a contemporary analogue, with an American politician donning a cowboy hat and line-dancing with the rubes out in West Texas in order to get out the vote, Shakespeare's very specific dialogue – and Fiennes's setting – precludes this from becoming so plausible.
That's my long-winded way of saying that the update doesn't really work. I could go on for ages about which details succeed and which do not, but that's only because of my own peculiar interest in the play. Unless you too share that interest, there's no reason for you to see Coriolanus, which for all of its gritty locations is a flat, claustrophobic experience.