PLOT: When Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, is told of a prophecy that he will take the throne, he and his wife take deadly actions to procure his rise. However, fear and paranoia may prove their undoing.
REVIEW: Bringing William Shakespeare’s work to the big screen can certainly be challenging. In the latest adaptation of MACBETH, filmmaker Justin Kurzel brings this tragic tale of greed and murder to life in a profound and mostly satisfying way. This story of a prophecy come true leads, not only to the rise of Macbeth and his wife, but the consequences of the horrors they commit as well. Surrounded by the majestic Scottish landscape, this epic story is told on a slightly smaller scale than one would expect. The recreation of war is stylistically displayed with a few images of bloodshed and violence. All the while Shakespeare’s words are expressed beautifully by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, from a screenplay by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso.
After the untimely death of their child, Macbeth (Fassbender) and his faire Lady (Cotillard) find themselves with little to hope for. That is until a strange encounter on the battlefield, under the order of King Duncan, when three witches and a child appear. After Macbeth is victorious in the battles, the witches foretell that he will rise in the ranks, and then ultimately be crowned king. When he is unexpectedly promoted to Thane of Cawdor, Lady Macbeth convinces her husband that they may need to speed up the process to get to the throne. The couple’s desperation to gain power leads to murder and betrayal, only to fill the couple with paranoia and fear. If you are at all familiar with what is famously referred to as “The Scottish Play,” this interpretation remains fairly true to the original work. If you are not, this may not be the best place to start when it comes to Shakespeare on film.
Beautifully shot by Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, there is a haunting quality to MACBETH. One of the most famous monologues involving Lady Macbeth takes place in a church as snowflakes flow past her tear-filled eyes. Even the battle sequences are artfully explored with horrific images interlaced with slow motion shots of swords crashing down on the soldiers. Yet it is one of the final moments where we see fire and ash set the stage for one of the best sequences in the film. The use of color, as well as the mountainous regions of Scotland, creates an impressive looking picture. While at times the style nearly seems to take over, it never fully overshadows the rich dialogue.
MACBETH is as timely as ever. Let’s face it, greed and corruption are always fair game in cinema. Yet for the uninitiated, this may be a confusing couple of hours. Much emphasis is placed on Shakespeare and his poetic verse. For those of you coming in with little patience for that sort of thing, it will be difficult to fully connect to Macbeth and his dark journey. However, the players take the original work quite seriously with only a few liberties, so fans of the Bard will probably enjoy the experience. A few changes, like the more grounded take on the witches (Kayla Fallon, Lynn Kennedy, Seylan Baxter and Amber Rissmann) took me a bit off guard early on. Perhaps it was in anticipation of a more flamboyantly expressed version on the characters. This was far more exaggerated in the Orson Welles adaptation from 1948, but the subtleties here are effective enough.
As stylish as this may be, it wouldn’t have worked without the on-screen talent. Once again, Fassbender proves to be a powerful leading man. The same can be said for Cotillard as a leading lady, she commands the screen with her manipulative Lady Macbeth. What is interesting is the care given to both of these roles when it comes to the script. Certainly, the two are corruptible, but the script and direction manage to give each a bit of empathy. Maybe Fassbender seems mad from the very beginning, yet he is able to give the character vulnerability. There is an occasional tenderness between the king and his queen, which is an interesting choice for these particular characters. Thanks to the impressive performances, it works.
If you appreciate Shakespeare’s works, then this take on MACBETH is one to be admired. While it may be deliberately paced - yes, it can be a bit slow - it builds to its crescendo nicely. The visuals are impressive, as are the two leads. Fassbender and Cotillard have an undeniable chemistry which helps to elevate the dastardly duo to more than just a campy scene-chewing spectacle. It also helps that the haunting score by Jed Kurzel with it’s screeching violins adds another level to this desolate Scottish landscape. This is a fine adaptation, and it continues to prove what an immensely powerful actor Michael Fassbender is. After this and STEVE JOBS, he certainly has had a terrific year.
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