“Macbeth” is a retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and violent tragedies. Macbeth, the Thane of Scotland receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become the King of Scotland. Fueled by desire and lust for power, Macbeth and his wife murder the King to claim the throne for themselves. And although power greets them as a worthy friend, so does madness which consumes Macbeth, leading him down a dark path of blood and misfortunes.
“Macbeth” is a Shakespeare play that has always been ripe and juicy for the medium of film. Whether it being Akira Kurosawa’s “The Throne of Blood,” or Roman Polanski’s controversial 1971 version, “Macbeth” is rich in plot and lends itself well to big-screen adaptations. This version of “Macbeth” is directed by Justin Kurzel, who brings the story to younger audiences. Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth, and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard plays Lady Macbeth. Fassbender and Cotillard deliver stunning performances here, delivering Shakespeare’s dialogue in such a unique and realistic way that I have never seen before. Their chemistry is unmatched and their sense of style for the language is absolutely stunning. Shakespeare’s dialogue is not easy to say, especially to make it real and believable and both actors accomplish this. Another actor who does fine work here is David Thewlis who plays King Duncan and Paddy Constantine who plays Banquo. Sean Harris plays Macduff, in an Oscar worthy role that is both mesmerizing and melancholic. It’s safe to say that director Justin Kurzel put together some of the finest working actors for his vision of Macbeth.
Regarding vision, Kurzel’s view of Macbeth is the greatest strength that this film has to offer. This is easily, the most brutal and visceral adaptation of a Shakespeare play that I have ever seen, next to Julie Taymor’s “Titus Andronicus.” This version of Macbeth combines the real-life history of the character and infuses it with the Shakespeare mythology. The perfect way to describe the look of this movie is by looking at two pieces. This film has the look and feel of Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart,” but also the backdoor politics and evil plotting of “Game of Thrones.” This movie is a complete visual experience that is just as poetic as the dialogue itself. One thing I really liked about this style, was it felt almost like a dark graphic novel, “300” style concerning the battle sequences. In most adaptations of “Macbeth,” we never see the battle that Macbeth has won, but this film shows that battle in a grand and epic way, which hooks the audience right from the start.
A lot of the visual grandeur owes itself to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, who’s well known for shooting “True Detective.” “Macbeth” is without a doubt, the most beautifully shot film that I have seen this year, and the dark tone of this movie is seen mostly through the lens of Arkapaw’s camera. The music was low and dreary, sounding mostly like what you would here from an old Scottish play, with some slight choral pieces that helps give the movie its unique identity.
Hardcore Shakespeare fanatics might find this version of “Macbeth” a little too stripped down, as some of the play’s signature lines are cut. The biggest one being, “double double, toil and trouble.” There are no witch’s cauldrons and no “pricking of my thumbs,” but instead we get a more realistic adaptation of what Macbeth may have looked like and the harsh world that he lived in. However, all the soliloquies make it into the film and the language is preserved to the best degree possible to fit the story. I never was too keen on the Polanski version, but I am a huge fan of the Patrick Stewart PBS made for TV film that came out back in 2010. If you have not seen Patrick Stewart’s “Macbeth” I implore you do do so. Actress Kate Fleetwood is mesmerizing as Lady Macbeth. However, after seeing this version I think it has supplanted the Stewart version, at least for me. This was a totally savage, and brutal adaptation that felt so real, and visceral that it took Shakespeare to a whole different level. The film is easy to follow and I think younger people will find this story polarizing and engaging if they are trying to learn more about Shakespeare’s tragic plays.
“Macbeth” is full of “sound and fury.” It’s savage nature adapts Shakespeare’s play into one of the most mesmerizing and visually sumptuous films that I have seen this year. Fassbender and Cotillard are excellent, as is the supporting cast. This is one of the most unique movies that I have seen this year and I say give Shakespeare a chance. I think this movie version is one of the most accessible that I have seen and I applaud the director for making it so. This style over substance look is well suited for cinema, and I think it works wonders for this play, which is in itself, a story of lust, power and violence. And what better way to show the Tragedy of Macbeth, than with a sense of savagery.