Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor
Written by: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso and (based on the play) William Shakespeare.
Running Time: 113 mins
Release date: 2nd October 2015
Here is a film that is definitely style over substance. Take a classic Shakespearean tragedy, dress it up like an outtake of Braveheart and have the entire cast virtually whispering their lines while smoke-filled orange-lit scenery fills the screen. Actually there is much more to it than that but it’s a shame that director Justin Kurzel decided to concentrate on the visuals more than the production.
Macbeth, a mighty warrior, is visited by three witches foretelling him his future. Led on my the prophecy that he would be king, he embarks on a plan to kill Duncan and claim the throne as his own. With his wife at his side, the plan soon starts to haunt him, leading him to become paranoid and make decisions that will affect his own state of mind.
Macbeth is up there with the most famous of Shakespeare’s play, having been a favourite in classrooms across the country. It’s story of the warrior who wants to be king, with a little push from his beloved, is full of brutality and violence, which is captured here. This is a visceral Macbeth, full of slow motion sequences, long, stilted shots of the characters in deep thought, blood-red skies filling the screen. While this all looks impressive, it does distract from the text and overall story.
The battle scenes are breathtakingly handled, with swords slashing against humans in an almost balletic style, as each movement is slowed down to a stop so each frame is like a picture in itself. I also liked the way in which the three witches were handled. Instead of going down the usual route of Haggerty old women standing around a cauldron, these witches, who mysteriously appear and disappear among the mist, are three young women, all with a strange marking on their forehead and accompanied by a young girl. This adds a level of creepiness to the proceedings.
The performances are exceptional except for one slight problem. The decision to have the characters mumble their lines loses the poetry of Shakespeare’s words and thus loses the sense of rhythm of the blank verse. Having said that, Paddy Considine, who is this country’s finest screen actors, isn’t given enough to do as Macbeth’s loyal friend, Banquo, while it was nice to see the excellent Sean Harris is a role where he wasn’t playing a psychotic, instead turning in a strong and passionate performance as Macduff.
Marion Cotillard plays the scheming Lady M with a much softer touch than we are used to, and while you have to be impressed with her accent considering that English is not her first language, by giving her a lighter feel, we lose that evil streak, that determination for power that makes Lady Macbeth such an icon role.
Finally there is Michael Fassbender in the title role, a powerful warrior on the field of battle yet a man torn by ambition and greed. Fassbender is a fine actor and he fits the character well, yet there was something missing in his performance. I didn’t feel any real empathy for him. Macbeth is a man riddled with guilt for what he does yet here it was all to matter of fact. One particularly scene was so underplayed by Fassbender that instead of feeling sorry for him, you felt nothing at all. Don’t get me wrong, he is very good in the role, just like Cotillard, the decision to play him this was didn’t work.
The film has moments that stood out and moments that disappointed, yet Macbeth uses the impressive use of cinema to distract rather than enhance. Looking more like an expensive car advert, you are so in wonder at the visual flair that you forget entirely about the plot. Shakespeare should be about trying new things but never to the point of hiding the text behind something less important.