Macbeth (2015)

Feels modern in full-throttle blood-spurting style, yet also wholly in period with Shakespearean-speak – a violent, beautiful if occasionally emotionally distancing screen adaptation of the famous text.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #1,237

Dir. Justin Kurzel
2015 | UK/France | Drama/War | 113 mins | 2.39:1 | English

NC16 (passed clean) for violence and sexual scenes

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis
Plot: Spurred on by an eerie prophecy of the power he could gain if he were King, Macbeth, an army general, murders Duncan, the King of Scotland, and takes the throne. However, his guilt, and that of his wife, may prove to be their undoing.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Ambition; Guilt
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 27 Nov 2015
Spoilers: No

So many auteurs have done ‘Macbeth’.  Orson Welles did it in 1948 as actor and director.  Akira Kurosawa culturalized it into Throne of Blood (1957).  And Roman Polanski made it in 1971 with Jon Finch. 

In this new adaptation of the famous text, Australian director Justin Kurzel envisions the film in full-throttle blood-spurting style that feels modern, yet containing it wholly in period with medieval sets and costume, and of course, performed in Shakespearean-speak.  It is a bold, visually startling piece that is conscious of its sleekness and darkness.

Michael Fassbender plays the titular character while Marion Cotillard (in her French-accented English) plays Lady Macbeth.  Their performances are, at the very least, intense – you would expect no less from these two commanding actors. 

The pivotal lines and scenes are intact, and as much as many of us know how the story would unfold, Kurzel’s vision gives it a unique look.  He also took some liberties in translating text to screen in a largely faithful interpretation.

“I am in blood, stepped in so far.”

His use of colours, particularly blood red and misty orange, is strong.  Not to mention the attention to period detail, coupled with breathtaking on-location photography (shot mostly in Wales) promises an authentic if surreal portrayal of Shakespeare’s text. 

There’s no doubt Kurzel’s film is cinematic, but it can come across as emotionally distancing. Part of the reason is that the Shakespearean-speak may be difficult to embrace fully; in fact, the delivery of the cast doesn’t feel as natural as it should, with Fassbender and Cotillard not quite embodying the characters completely.  

Performance is one thing, embodiment is another.  The result is a Macbeth adaptation that may prove harder than it seems to get into, at least for mainstream audiences or cinephiles.  However, it should satisfy literary aficionados and Shakespearean devotees. 

Kurzel, who only made one feature prior to this, the Cannes Camera d’Or-nominated The Snowtown Murders (2011), is a talent to watch.  One should commend his confidence in taking on one of Shakespeare’s seminal texts with relative ease, delivering a beautiful rendition of bloodshed and brutality. 

Grade: B




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