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Directed by Justin Kurzel Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard & David Thewlis

Film review by Chris Olson


William Shakespeare, literary behemoth and scourge to schoolchildren for centuries, has one of his most beloved plays, Macbeth, resurrected in this new film adaptation from director Justin Kurzel. Michael Fassbender plays the title roll, an ambitious Scottish Thane whose world becomes a bloody hell after being given a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become King.

When reading film reviews going into the movie, it was difficult to find out about the language, so first off: Macbeth (2015) is in Shakespearean dialect. The script has not been adapted into modern English, so any moviegoers who shudder at the thought of all those “thou” and “thees” should probably stay at home. That being said, if you are willing to throw yourself into the dialect, or are a fan of the sumptuous script, there are plenty of monologues to feast on.

Opening with a Zack Snyder-esque 300 (2006) battle scene, with some pretty jarring stop-start slow motion, Macbeth makes an bewildering promise to viewers that this will be a brutal and bloody affair, riddled with intense action and ferocious emotion. The remainder of the film, however, is rather different. Completely leaning on Fassbender to deliver endless monologues and bat-shit crazy breakdowns, Macbeth becomes almost a one-man show. Marion Cotillard, who plays an unnerving Lady Macbeth, is on fine form as per usual, given some of her own monologues and intense scenes. But, for the most part, the audience are there as spectators to this royal madness.

Begging the question, why make this film at all?, Kurzel’s modern adaptation seems to be little more than a stage play, rarely utilising the devices at his disposal as a filmmaker. Aside from the breathtaking landscape shots, commendably provided by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the movie is mostly made up of slow zooms on inside shots that languish until the lines have been delivered before moving on to another sequence made up of the same aesthetic, characters (mainly Macbeth) and droning score.

The music, by Jed Kurzel, brother to Justin (make of that what you will), is morosely intense throughout, capturing the foreboding tone that seems to have been the only dramatic choice for most of the film’s elements.

Stylistically and emotionally, the film is just too drab. Yes the play is a tragedy, and yes it is about how absolute power corrupts absolutely, but surely a little more fun could have been had! A variety of scenes could have been interspersed delivering the tongue in cheek nature of Shakespeare’s writing that highlighted the insanity of Macbeth’s mindset, utilising the superb supporting cast. Instead, we are offered a cocktail made up of one ingredient - Michael Fassbender.

This is the first time that Fassbender seems to be out of his depth, delivering a performance that was pretty linear and shaky. The film is so heavily reliant on the text that he is unable to move away from it at all, rendering most of his scenes very samey. Hats off to Sean Harris who plays Macduff, sadly underused but enigmatic in the scenes he appears in, as is David Thewlis.

Whilst a lot of the film has some very strong elements, its main flaw is a lack of bravery, a reluctance to bring anything new to the table. Audiences were wowed with Baz Luhrmann’s vivid and bold adaptation of Rome + Juliet (1996), which dared to throw in a whole host of exploitative changes whilst still delivering the same essence found in the play. Kurzel’s Macbeth rarely deviates from the well-trodden path, and audiences may find themselves wondering why they didn’t just go see this as a live theatre production.

The themes of power, ambition and human weakness are well explored, and the film’s setting of Macbeth’s personal hell has some visually stunning moments, but the ceaseless downbeat tone and monotonous sequences will not attract larger audiences. Instead, William Shakespeare receives a cinematic setback, and audiences will probably have to await a more daring director.

Watch a clip from the movie Macbeth below...

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