A Scottish lord and his wife are driven by their ambition to sin and madness.
Justin Kurzel, 2015
You really don’t know the plot of Macbeth? Well, even if you do, you’re going to want to study it in-depth before seeing this adaptation, so here’s a refresher. After a personal loss and a victory on the battlefield, Scottish lord Macbeth comes across three witches on the moors. They deliver to him the prophecy that he will be king and that his buddy Banquo will be the father of kings. When some other parts of the witches’ prophecies start coming true, Macbeth tells his wife, and Lady Macbeth sets him on a murderous path. Once they’ve achieved their goals, however, they find that murder has, you know, consequences and stuff. The previously honourable (or so we’re told) Macbeth finds that violence breeds more violence and is set down a bloody path, becoming mad with power. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth, the mastermind behind the crime, descends into madness.
Okay, so here’s the deal. I know Macbeth very well. I’ve studied it more than once, I’ve seen the Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa (Throne of Blood, the best adaptation by far) and Roman Polanski versions, I know what happens in the Scottish play. I also really like Macbeth. It’s one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It’s action-packed and bloody, and it has two of the most fascinating character trajectories ever created in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I tell you all this so that you will understand what I mean when I say I could not figure out what was happening in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth. This movie is a confusing, shallow adaptation of the source material. It looks pretty, recreating medieval Scotland faithfully, right down to the period lighting. It looks <i>really pretty</i> sometimes, particularly during the fire-lit final fight (which reminded me so much of Throne of Blood that it’s not funny). There are rather a lot of directorial flourishes, some of which work better than others – I could have done without the extreme slow motion of the battle, for instance, but the witches and the moors were used to spooky effect. Unfortunately, the mix of magic and reality is handled very poorly here, so that the Macbeths’ descent into madness is frustratingly unclear. It’s also so incredibly low-energy that I found myself almost falling asleep in parts. The only thing keeping me going was my knowledge that, eventually, something exciting HAD to happen. This is still Macbeth, after all.
Part of the lack of energy has to be attributed to the lead performances from usually talented actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. They were hindered by a lot of the strange choices, such as the choice to deliver all soliloquies with dead eyes to empty spaces. But Fassbender plays Macbeth as such a one-note character that there’s no sense of his journey from honourable lord and husband to despotic madman. If they’d only had him smile more often, he’d definitely sell the crazy zeal of Macbeth better than he does with his weird trait of holding knives to people’s body parts. Marion Cotillard fares both better and worse; a native French speaker, she seems to struggle with the dialogue, but at least her madness is made clearer. She never seems to quite manage that Lady Macbeth steeliness, though. The rest of the characters deliver their lines in thick Scots accents, making the already difficult Shakespearian dialogue even tougher to interpret. The best performance of the film by far comes from Sean Harris, whose Macduff occasionally, you know, reacts to stuff like a human being. He’s the perfect Macduff, his strange features combining with a heartfelt performance. Paddy Considine and David Thewlis acquit themselves as Banquo and King Duncan respectively, and Elizabeth Debicki is once again criminally underused as Lady Macduff. Overall, this movie adds nothing new to the story, and manages to make one of the most interesting stories in history terribly dull.
Macbeth on IMDb