A little bit of a disappointment I have to say. Director Justin Kurzel’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play is very memorable for its bloody, bleak and beautiful visuals of the Isle of Skye and Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, but throughout almost the entirety of the film it fails to be very engaging. Too many moments feel like actors reading Shakespeare rather than living their parts or vocalising the minds and emotions of their characters, and the darkness, particularly the central character’s decent into it, isn’t offset against anything – it all goes pear shaped too quickly for us to care particularly about the unfolding tragedy.
If we compare this to one of the most famous examples of the protagonist going through a violent metamorphoses, Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather’ (72), there we like Michael, we see him at the wedding with his girlfriend, we learn he’s a good guy, a strong character – and indeed it’s primarily the bond for his family that begins the corruption of his soul, so we understand it and care about him as a character. Macbeth generally, and particularly here, is much more difficult to invest in, as are all of the characters. In real life he was considered to be quite a benevolent king, and in the play he begins as someone who commanded the loyalty of those around him – the film needed much more of this. As it is, we just have stylised bloodletting before his woman finds it a little too easy to sex him into devilry.
Michael Fassbender takes centre stage as the titular devil and he fits the role like a glove, although his portrayal is curtailed by the shortcomings of the film and doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it could have done. Almost none of the main cast are Scottish but all attempt very reasonable accents, with Fassbender and then Englishman Sean Harris in support as Macduff doing the best of the bunch. French actress Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth does stand out a little as the only one not attempting the accent and unfortunately it does jar with the others and the setting, and despite her being a great actress it nevertheless adds to the imprint of hollow characterisation. Critically, a lot of the dialogue is muffled and difficult to make out – it’s fine not understanding the, in parts, antiquated language Shakespeare wrote in, or getting confused by the poetry and its references, but one should at least be able to make out the words themselves.
To be fair to the film I did just watch Kurosawa’s version of the play, ‘Throne of Blood’ (57), a few months ago so I wasn’t really in the mood for the same story again so soon, but if you are similarly overly familiar with the play then visuals aside I don’t think you’re going to really gain anything from this retelling. Also with David Thewlis as Duncan, Paddy Considine as Banquo and Jack Reynor as Malcolm.