Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, War
Run Time: 1 hours, 53 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, David Hayman
Directed by Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders)
Most people who make it through high school are familiar with Shakespeare's famous play "Macbeth," and it seems to be a role that most "serious" actors will attempt at some point in their careers. The tragedy, about a Scottish General who, inspired by a prophecy and goaded by his wife, ascends to the throne, only to become a tyrannical, paranoid ruler himself. It is a story about war, death and the pitfalls of blind ambition, of how power can corrupt any man who does not keep his aspirations in check. Many of the great directors have attempted to adapt Macbeth for the big-screen, including Orson Welles, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa (whose "Throne of Blood" is a Macbeth adaptation). The latest incarnation, Macbeth (opening today), comes to us from Australian director, Justin Kurzel, and he manages to breathe new life into portions of the story, while at the same time leaving large chunks of Shakespeare's original prose on the cutting room floor.
Therein lies the problem: Who, but film snobs, thespians or high-brow enthusiasts will go into a theater to watch Shakespeare these days? "Purists" will likely take major issues with Kurzel's Macbeth for the drastic changes to the source material and many "average" movie-goers will likely steer clear entirely. So for whom is this Macbethintended?
Well, there is some good news, in that this version is a visual splendor. Those that have found Shakespeare to be inaccessible usually take pause due to the distinct language, but prolonged exposure to this old-tongued dialogue usually, suddenly, begins to make sense. But from the very first scene of this film - where Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) - stand in silence at the funeral of their child (a scene not in the play), there just may be enough visual substance here for newbies or first-timers to get engaged in the classic story.
And while Kurzel has a seeming penchant for violence (his only previous film, The Snowtown Murders, and his upcoming video-game adaptation, Assassin's Creed, inform us of where his interests lie), their is a palpable reverence for Shakespeare in his work here. He is not looking to re-create or usurp, just trying to flesh out the story of what it really would have been like to be knee deep in a medieval, civil war. There are portions where his artistic eye teeters on pretentious (in watching the film, I was tempted to refer to it as "Mac-Melancholia"), but overall this is a dazzling take on a story that most feel familiar with.
The real revelation is discovered in his - and Marion Cotillard's - Lady Macbeth. She is portrayed with a fire and ferociousness that is uncommon to the role. And Fassbender, coming off his award-worthy turn as Steve Jobs, shows that he may be the most versatile leading man currently working in film.
Besides cutting a lot of the dialogue, Macbeth also undercuts its protagonist by showing a chaotic, brutal battle scene near the beginning of the film. We see in this scene that Macbeth is capable of blood-thirst, making his later journey into madness a shorter trek than we usually see with the character.
Macbeth may piss off purists and may just be too unattainable for casual movie-goers, but it is a solid interpretation, one that oddly enough, seems timely in today's global political climate.
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