IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 113 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In Medieval Scotland, Macbeth is a loyal general of King Duncan. After leading Duncan’s forces to victory against a group of traitors to the crown, Macbeth encounters three witches who foretell that he was be promoted and eventually become king of Scotland. The promotion almost immediately takes place when the Thane of Cawdor is executed for treason. Macbeth begins harbouring ambitions of being king, while his wife Lady Macbeth convinces him, after some difficulty, to murder Duncan. The couple formulate a plan whereby Macbeth will kill him in his sleep and two drunken servants for will be blamed for the crime….
Considering we’ve had three very fine versions from movie luminaries Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, it’s tempting to ask what another film adaptation of possibly my favourite Shakespeare play can bring to the table. Justin Kurzel’s new version actually manages to bring quite a bit, even if in the end it falls a bit short of those three earlier pictures. This is a highly atmospheric and very convincing production which sets much of the action against stunningly photographed location work, chiefly the Isle Of Skye, doubling for the Scottish highlands. Cinematographer Adan Arkapaw does some great work throughout, from stunning shots of light streaming in through a church to a climactic twenty minutes which is all orange-hued, but sadly this is interspersed with annoying handheld stuff, especially for lengthy dialogue scenes which, while only once degenerating [why, just why?] into full ‘shakycam’ for one key scene, still gives the impression that there’s something wrong with the projection of the film, and also looks just so damn unprofessional in a film which isn’t at all intended to be like a documentary. There are, though, times when the movie is a visual feast so the result is a bit inconsistent if in the end far more good than bad.
The play has been slightly shortened, in particular cutting some comic relief [though where the hell was: “Double double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble”?, probably the most famous line in the whole play] and this works well for the tragic and brutal story, though some of the changes irk and others don’t. An added opening scene was obviously intended to make the descent of the two central characters into violent madness a bit more convincing but wasn’t really worth it. Nonetheless, some of the play’s key moments are very well handled, there are some effective visual touches, and Jed Kurzel’s hypnotic score helps to ensure that the really rather fearful feel of the piece never goes away. Michael Fassbender, an actor I’ve never really warmed to before despite his undeniable talent, might be the best onscreen Macbeth ever, totally selling his character’s complex emotions [despite sporting some dodgy eyeliner] and his descent into vicious tyranny which comes across as, in Macbeth’s twisted mind, something closer to survival than just plain evil. On the other hand Marion Cotillard seems to be having difficulty doing some of Lady Macbeth’s scenes [and why is she allowed to retain her French accent?], though this film doesn’t seem to know entirely how to portray her. Looking and feeling a bit like 300 in its action, but overall closer to something like Valhalla Rising in style and atmosphere, this version of Macbeth stumbles in a few aspects but is still a good introduction to Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy and doesn’t at all sell it short.