Starring: Michael Fassbender (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Marion Cotillard (Inception), Paddy Considine (The World’s End), Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything)
Director: Justin Kurzel (Snowtown)
Writers: Todd Louiso & Jacob Koskoff (The Mark Pease Experience) and Michael Lesslie
Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes
Release Date: 2 October (UK), 4 December (US)
Adapting Shakespeare to the big screen is a task nearly as old as cinema itself, and the results vary wildly between eras, interpretations and overall quality. The problem I have with most adaptations is that they don’t take advantage of the medium of film; they’re basically just elaborate stage productions with bigger stars and more money. Justin Kurzel’s vision of Macbeth certainly makes a bold attempt of truly turning the play into a film, but growing pains from the medium transition can still be felt in key areas.
The most surprising thing about this version of Macbeth is that it’s at its best when it just throws out Shakespeare’s script. It covers all the important beats of the story and his words are very much present in the film, but there are a lot of scenes that play completely without dialogue and these parts work exceptionally well. This is most impactful in the film’s first act, where Macbeth’s (Fassbender) first meeting with the Wyrd Sisters is mostly carried through the sisters’ haunting demeanour and Macbeth’s reactions. Kurzel’s direction and visual style tell the story more than fluently on its own, so it’s actually a bit jarring when, after a long period of silence, everyone starts breaking into sonnets. I know it’s almost blasphemous to say, but the film may have worked better if they stripped the script even more and just kept the vital dialogue, letting the film’s rich atmosphere carry the film instead. Shakespeare’s writing style is often difficult to transfer from stage to screen given the different requirements of each format, but even though Macbeth is less reverent to text than some it still could have afforded to cut more.
A lot of Shakespeare adaptations also fall flat due to poor performances from actors who recite Shakespeare’s words like they’re reading a foreign language. Macbeth never has that problem, featuring a fantastic cast led by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Fassbender, the fourth major X-Men cast member to take up the role, plays Macbeth in a subdued but powerful manner. He effectively plays a man driven by power and supposed destiny, driven to insanity by his paranoia and ruthless against anyone suspicious of him; his rendition of the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy is especially well handled. Marion Cotillard finally drops the French accent for her role as Lady Macbeth and, whilst it does feel her importance has been stripped down a bit from the original text, she still delivers a rich and powerful performance especially in her final moments. Sean Harris is also excellent as Macduff, particularly towards the end as he seeks retribution against Macbeth for his crimes. However, the abundance of dialogue again somewhat works against the actors. Their physical performances deliver so much on their own that there’s often no need for words to express themselves. It doesn’t at all take away from the performances, but lessening the dialogue perhaps could have added to them.
Even with the great performances, Kurzel remains the real star of Macbeth. He truly understands this is a film, not a play, and takes full advantage of the medium with some impressive visuals. The camera work is simple but the lighting and use of colour is excellent, and having real sets and elaborate period costumes really envelops you in the setting. The action sequences are brief and scattered, but they too have a lot of beauty to them. Looking somewhat like an arthouse production of 300 (ironic, considering Fassbender is in both) with its use of slow motion and unnatural colour grading, they highlight the violence and emotion of these fights far better than any words can.
Macbeth is a beautifully made and fantastically performed film that embraces the cinema format, but the leftovers from its original form seem somewhat jarring in the transition. There’s no denying the power of Shakespeare’s words, but they are words designed to be recited on a stage, and I don’t think any disrespect would have been done to trim the dialogue down to a bare minimum; it would be experimental and controversial, but people have done far worse with The Bard’s texts. If nothing else, Macbeth is solid confirmation that Kurzel, Fassbender and Cotillard are going to at least attempt something special with their adaptation of Assassin’s Creed next winter.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10