Disclaimer: This post was originally written for No Perfect Movie, but since the site has gone down, I’ve decided to transfer all my work onto this blog.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Sean Harris, David Thewlis
Release Date: 2nd October, 2015 (UK) | 4th December, 2015 (US)
Company: The Weinstein Company/StudioCanal
“I am in blood, stepped in so far.”
Macbeth is the latest in a long line of big screen adaptations of William Shakespeare’s celebrated play of the same name. It follows Michael Fassbender‘s eponymous character, who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches who claim that he will one day be the King of Scotland. Forced into action by his manipulative wife (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth makes a power play for the throne that eventually culminates with his descent into madness.
You’d have to have been living under a rock if you didn’t know the basics of this story by now. 400 years and countless adaptations for the stage and screen later, it’s difficult for any filmmaker to make their mark on such an iconic tale. Yet director Justin Kurzel does just that, weaving themes of war and PTSD into the source material. Screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie & Todd Louiso stay true to Shakespeare’s style – it’s remarkable how much old English sounds like a foreign language if you’re not paying attention…
That’s not to say the film isn’t engaging. On the contrary, it’s pretty enthralling at times – particularly from a visual point of view. However the dialogue does require a little more concentration than your average blockbuster affair. It’s a delicately balanced tale of ambition and despair, coupled with a creeping sense of unease that builds like a crescendo towards it’s pulsating, climactic finale – which does not disappoint.
“O, full of scorpions, is my mind.”
It’s a shame Michael Fassbender already looks like a dead-cert for Best Actor consideration for another role in Steve Jobs – as it means his sterling work in Macbeth will most likely slip under the radar. The phenomenal Irish actor has had quite the year so far, following up his captivating turn in Slow West with another performance to remember here. Primal and deranged, he dominates the screen with a feverish, rage-fueled display of authority.
As a result of Kurzel’s attempts to give us a fresh take on the characters, Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth feels somewhat sidelined. Her performance and intensity are still second to none, but she’s given less opportunity to be the villainous, scheming voice in her husband’s ear – especially as the film goes on. The rest of the cast hold themselves up admirably, but special mention goes to Sean Harris, who’s fierce turn as Macduff must not go unnoticed.
Direction & Tone
Despite the quality of the acting on display, this film ought to be praised as a visual experience above all else. Kurzel demonstrates a confidant artistry through his resplendent sets and scenery, teaming up with rising star cinematographer Adam Arkapaw to craft some truly breathtaking shots. The final battle, in particular, is a sight to behold, and, when coupled with Jed Kurzel‘s thunderous score, is the most cinematic Macbeth has ever been.
- The film also drastically cuts down the play – reducing it to its bare bones. Clocking in at just under two hours long, it never feels a moment too short or too long.
- After he was announced as the director of Assassin’s Creed, many began to believe Kurzel could be the one to make Hollywood’s first truly great video game movie.
- Given that it will share Macbeth‘s lead actor, actress, co-writer and cinematographer, I’m now certain he will.
Visceral and intense, Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is a memorable new take on a classic tale – as well as an exciting showcase for one of Hollywood’s most promising filmmakers.