2015, no MPAA rating, 113
2015, no MPAA rating, 113 mins.
Michael Fassbender as Macbeth / Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth / David Thewlis as Duncan / Paddy Considine as Banquo / Jack Reynor as Malcolm / Sean Harris as Macduff / Elizabeth Debicki as Lady Macduff / David Hayman as Lennox
Directed by Justin Kurzel / Written by Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso and Michael Lesslie, based on William Shakespeare's play
I’m not sure why, but of all of William Shakespeare's plays that I read throughout my high school life it was MACBETH that resonated the most deeply and intimately with me.
Scotland set tragedy tackles weighty psychological themes of personal and
political ambition run horrible afoul, not to mention that it's a stunning portrait of the unraveling
of one man's sanity. What’s especially noteworthy is the fact that very few cinematic adaptations of the play have been executed over the
years, the most memorable being Roman Polanski’s 1971 iteration and the
troubled Orson Welles 1948 effort. Frankly,
there have been so many countless films based on The Bard’s work over
the last several decades that any new film trying to inject some much
needed vitality into the proceedings is an incredibly daunting challenge
to say the least.
The new blood
spattered, passionately rendered, and impeccably performed MACBETH does
indeed take some dramatic liberties with Shakespeare’s original story
(then again, what movie adaptation hasn’t?), but what’s most
important is that director Justin Kurzel brings a considerable amount of
stylistic flair and grandiosity to his film.
This MACBETH – beyond any other silver screen version of the
play, or any other adaptation of Shakespeare’s work, for that matter
– is a forebodingly gorgeous assault on the senses and spares little
expense at capturing a near hallucinatory and nightmarish aura to the
whole film. Kurzel also has
found remarkable actors to populate key roles here, with the likes of
Oscar nominees Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, both of whom play
up to the overt theatricality of their respective parts while grounding
them in a plausible level of internalized dread.
With a positively riveting sense of aesthetic design and the
unendingly powerful tandem of Fassbender and Cotillard, this MACBETH has a
propulsive level of intrigue that I’ve not felt in a Shakespearean film
adaptation in a long time.
More than perhaps
any other MACBETH film, this one feels the most rough, rugged, and
tangibly lived in. We get
thrust into the particulars of the story with a headstrong tenacity and
immediacy as we meet General Macbeth (Fassbender) in the heart of
Scotland as he wages wars for King Duncan (David Thewlis), showcased in
many of the film’s barbarically beautiful action sequences. When he learns of the loss of his child with Lady Macbeth (Cotillard),
Macbeth’s mind begins to unravel in costly ways.
He begins to have visions of three witches that give him a glimpse
into the future of him reigning supreme over the land, which he acts upon
mostly because of Lady Macbeth’s mischievous and meddling ways.
Macbeth slays Duncan in his sleep and is later crowned king, but
soon becomes ravaged by a deep seeded paranoia about his newfound stature
and those around him that may wish to take it from him.
His grasp of sanity becomes hopelessly lost when he starts to have
doubts about the loyalties of those closest to him in his inner circle,
which explodes in a series of horrific confrontations that threaten his
I just couldn’t
shake how impressively mounted this MACBETH was from a production
standpoint as I left the screening of it.
The visceral horrors of the battlefield presented in the film are a
pitch perfect match for the internal horrors that persist in Macbeth’s
mind as he clings to his throne and mental well being.
The cinematography by Adam Arkapaw stunningly evokes a cruel,
violent, and vengeful world for the story’s trouble personas to occupy,
which makes bravura usage of the fog coated Scottish highlands and vistas
to masterful effect. The
manner with which Kurzel frames and choreographs the action suggests a
hypnotically gritty and gory graphic novel from the most depraved
recesses of our collective nightmares.
By the time the film reaches a fever pitched climax – set against
a backdrop of literal fire and brimstone that suggests hell on earth –
MACBETH almost becomes impossible to look away from despite the savagery thrown on screen. This
film is simply a work of brutal visual poetry.
the film’s stunning sense of atmosphere with equally virtuoso
performances. Fassbender –
as he has demonstrated time and time again in mesmerizing performances in HUNGER,
12 YEARS A SLAVE, SHAME, and this year’s
STEVE JOBS – shows that he
is unafraid of any thespian challenge thrown at him.
His Macbeth is suitably soulful and introspective, yet eventually
displays an animalistic hostility and irreparable level of mistrust;
it’s a richly multifaceted portrayal of a man destroying himself from
within that only Fassbender could muster.
He’s remarkably well paired with Cotillard, who arguably gives
the more unsettling and menacing performance of the pair in terms of how
she uses a soft spoken tenor and stillness to suggest a woman that’s
wrapped up in a cerebral bubble of her own twisted desires and
motivations. Lesser actresses
would have played Lady Macbeth to distracting levels of camera
mugging histrionics, but Cotillard is wise in playing Lady
Macbeth as a calm figure of evil, which is arguably more chilling.
Of course, even
though this MACBETH is far from being definitively faithful to
Shakespeare’s iconic text, Kurzel nevertheless captures many of the
great moments from the play with a real level of transfixing allure.
Key monologues are often uttered with a whisper while the
characters are placed within incalculably large spaces, whereas others
manage to have a near dreamlike atmosphere that lends themselves well to
the film’s overall expressionistic take on the material.
Throughout the film Kurzel understands that the key to framing his
entire story is by focusing on the frantic horrors of Macbeth’s unsettled
nature. It’s quite amazing to see a film adaptation of Shakespeare
that taps into the obvious theatricality of the piece while also having
time to tap into the inner mindsets of its characters in instances of quiet
introspection. It’s true
that this MACBETH is loose in terms of appropriating the play’s overall
story, but Kurzel remains steadfastly faithful to its tone and spirit,
which is what every film adaptation of Shakespeare’s work should
ultimately aspire to.
However, having said all of that, MACBETH clocks in at less than two hours, which makes it feel a bit truncated. It also could be argued that perhaps Kurzel places a considerable amount of emphasis on the huge scale of his enormous battle sequences to the point that it sometimes distracts from the overall drama of the piece. I for one was so enraptured by the risks and gambles of this inherent adaptation that I simply didn’t care about nitpicking after awhile. This is a mostly faithful and fiendishly inventive Shakespearean film adaptation, presented with consummately engaging and audacious cinematic flair. And when Fassbender and Cotillard are on screen together it’s as absolutely spellbinding to behold as the film’s astonishing production artifice.
This MACBETH will stay with me for an awfully long time.