Macbeth opened in October, in England, to critical acclaim. The movie is being released today in Canada and the US in select theatres. Macbeth garnered plenty of hype in the UK so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about, I wasn’t disappointed. Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth was a stunning, disturbing, interpretation of Shakespeare’s 400 year old play.
Kurzel, who is known for his Australian serial killer horror, Snowtown (2011), and for his upcoming movie version of the popular video game, Assassin’s Creed (to be released December 21, 2016) is at home in this rendition of medieval political intrigue and murder.
Macbeth is a dark, harrowing, and highly stylised film. Kurzel killed it (no pun intended) in the cinematography department; the magnificent backdrops of Scotland mixed with the bleak, depressing colours that surround Macbeth and Lady Macbeth set the tone for the entire film. Add to that, the usual slo-mo, blood–flying-everywhere battle scenes, straight out of an episode of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and you’re sure to keep the most inattentive movie goer glued to the screen. To be honest, while these types of scenes are usually over used during medieval films, Kurzel manages not to get carried away. He uses them briefly to lend themselves to the story telling, conveying the horrors of war Macbeth is forced to witness.
The movie is beautifully rendered, even with its oppressive, stark atmosphere. It’s perfectly balanced by the bare bones dialogue, faithful to Shakespeare’s play, and by the superb acting of Michael Fassbender (300, Prometheus) and Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant, Inception).
Fassbender is stellar as tormented Macbeth. Playing a traumatised general, loyal to his King, he takes us on Macbeth’s horrifying journey, from respected Thane to murderous traitor. He is mezmorizing on screen and brings a gritty, human quality to one of Shakespeare’s most hated villains.
Cotillard brings Lady Macbeth full circle as a sinister, grasping woman, but one who is also deeply damaged and incredibly fragile. Cotillard doesn’t give us a one-dimensional performance of the woman-we-love-to-hate, an evil woman who cajoles her husband into plotting the murder of their king, instead, Cotillard enables us to feel pity, and sadness Lady Macbeth. Back in high school, I always hated Lady Macbeth when I first read the play and remember thinking, ‘what a dreadful, evil woman’. Cotillard’s performance made me re-think that long standing dislike and see other sides to Lady Macbeth.
This movie brought out the heavy hitters with an exceptional supporting cast. One of my all time favourites, Sean Harris, did justice to the role of Macduff. The actor, who is well known for his portrayal of Cesare Borgia’s hit man Micheletto Corella in 2011 Showtime series, The Borgias, delivered a riveting performance as the avenging hero who suspects Macbeth of regicide and eventually brings him down. This wasn’t the first time these two men faced off; Harris and Fassbender both appeared in Ridley Scott’s 2012 Sci-Fi hit, Prometheus. I was happy to see Harris grace the big screen, he’s a spectacular actor. Banquo, played by Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) Macbeth’s loyal friend who is later betrayed, and Malcom, played by Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction, Dollhouse) both gave solid performances. Last but certainly not least, another favourite of mine, David Thewlis (Harry Potter,Kingdom Of Heaven), who is no stranger to medieval films, starred as the hapless King Duncan. He was terrific even though he didn’t get much screen time. It was a well chosen cast.
The costumes were a bit stylised, and the make up on Lady Macbeth was a bit weird in some places, but overall, as with the battle scenes, this didn’t detract from the movie. The acting carried the day; they could’ve been wearing paper bags and I would’ve been riveted to the screen. Kurzel’s version of Macbeth is definitely worthy of a place beside classics such Roman Polanski’s brutally graphic, but acclaimed, Macbeth (1971). Kurzel has the recipe here for a hit, and potentially, an academy award nomination.