Macbeth: Film Review
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis
Director: Justin Kurzel
The infamous Scottish play gets a bloody 2015 revamp at the hands of Snowtown's director, Justin Kurzel, with Michael Fassbender taking the lead and Marion Cottilard as his bride.
Setting the play and its prosaic text to the battlefields of Scotland, where mist readily rolls in and envelops all in its path, Kurzel's drenched this adaptation in doom and gloom. The film begins with an extension of a line uttered within the movie that's been expanded out (perhaps which will annoy purists) depicting both MacBeths laying a child to rest. It's a brave move to add to the text, but one which grounds the film's protagonists in a degree of motivation as this tale of ambition and its consequences plays out.
From its slow-mo battlefield scenes to its final orange-hued showdown between Sean Harris' wounded MacDuff and Fassbender's on the edge MacBeth, this version of the film tends to favour style and grit over everything else. And for the large part, its grit and doom-laden moodiness is incredibly evocative in terms of scene-setting. But Shakespeare's play has always been about the central protagonists and their ascent to the heights of ambition and the descent of their insanity.
And perhaps in some of the key moments, it doesn't quite nail the beats of the play (though one could argue that an understanding of the text from the study I had to do as a child may mean I have a deeper insight into its execution). Particularly Fassbender who unfortunately doesn't hit the requisite beats of the Bard's verse in the well known parts. While his dagger before me speech is nicely executed with a ghostly apparition, his king's transformation and descent into insanity as he spies the barely recognisable ghost of the slaughtered Banquo (Considine in a blink and miss it performance) doesn't ring true. And while Fassbender's softer delivery of these speeches is spiked with a series of exclamations, it feels like an odd mix, mainly due in parts to Kurzel's handheld camera style and shakiness.
Thankfully, Cotillard's tortured siloloquy as she wrestles with that damned spot is more intimate and devastating, her ghostly white visage draped in the dawning horror of what she and her husband have executed. If anything, Lady MacBeth appears more as a well-rounded character than the text, a less black and white nag who picks at her husband to vault her dizzying ambitions of power.
But while there are psychological moments that don't quite hit the required heights, there are stylish touches that demonstrate Kurzel is willing to update the text into something that can chime with youth studying it and with those whose thirst for blood is today satiated with George R R Martin's prose and its subsequent televisual execution. (Right down to a stake-burning that seems all so familiar)
Nowhere is this more evident in his thrilling reinvention of how the Birnam woods make their way to Dunsinane as part of the prophecy, a final battle that has equal moments of desperation and despair and a clever execution of hordes warning Macbeth to beware MacDuff.
It's for these moments and Cotillard's performance that Macbeth almost succeeds in vaulting its own lofty ambitions - but it doesn't quite reach the peaks of its own desire, falling at the last summit.