Macbeth: excellent rendition of a timeless tragedy

Posted on 15 October 2015
By Jennifer Browne
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Fearsomely visceral and faultlessly performed, Macbeth bares its teeth and draws blood in the powerful and steadfast adaption of the 400-year-old Shakespearean play.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Australian Snowtown director Justin Kurzel has created a great Shakespearean movie – fit to stand with the likes of Welles, Polanski and Kurosawa’s grand cinematic Macbeths.

Shot on location in Scotland and England, Kurzel’s intensely rugged, an extremely Scottish, Macbeth commands attention, telling the story of a warrior nobleman who, driven by desire and a witch’s prophecy, murders the King of Scotland and seizes the throne for himself, soon becoming consumed with torment and guilt.

Kurzel’s version of the tragic tale has been stripped down to its basics with some iconic characters, like the porter and Donalbain, being cut. And while purists may scowl at the alterations in Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso and Michael Lesslie’s script, many will argue that the rendition has revitalized the Shakespearean classic, regaining its power to captivate and shock.

The language – sadly to those who hoped for a more modern Macbeth – remains original to its 11th century setting throughout the film. But the adaptation isn’t afraid to take risks – in its 113-minute runtime, there are several lengthy, wordless scenes that focus on cinematography rather than dialogue to expand on the story. Instead of being drawn-out though, Kurzel’s artsy approach works as visual poetry and draws the attention of the audience.

Bookended by battles, Kurzel gives the film stunning visual modernity by using slow motion to focus in on the emotions of major characters, often homing in on their inner suffering and torment to bring the audience intimately closer, and to give the scene a nightmarish feel.

The story, however, would not have made such an impact if it were not for the intensely compelling performances of its A-list cast.

Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth is – in one word – hypnotic. His intense portrayal of a man’s descent into madness catches the audiences’ attention from the start and never lets go. When his Macbeth confesses to his wife that his “mind is full of scorpions” after he murders the King and takes the throne, the actor’s tormented delivery and haunting grin truly makes the audience feel his inner monsters.

In line with Fassbender, Marion Cotillard delivers an electrifying performance. Her Lady Macbeth – although perhaps less ferocious than Shakespeare’s original script suggests – proves extremely convincing.

Her rendition of the famous sleepwalking scene is extraordinary. Performed alone in a wooden chapel, her soliloquy exudes raw grief and anguish, captivating the audience emotionally from the first word.

Perhaps the only thing that threatens to upstage the performances of the all-star cast, though, is the spellbindingly eerie highland landscape. Unforgiving rock faces and low-hanging clouds tower over boggy marshes and misty hills as the unforgettable backdrop for its 11th century Scottish setting.

All in all, Kurzel’s Macbeth packs effective storytelling, visual spectacle and a captivatingly convincing cast into an excellent rendition of a timeless tragedy. It is, perhaps, the most cinematic Shakespeare yet.