It would be hard to think of an actor better-suited to play Macbeth than Michael Fassbender -- he can look sad-eyed and gentle, but his angular face and wide mouth are equally well-suited to grins of evil or madness.
So I had nothing but eagerness to see "Macbeth," an adaptation of Shakespeare's mighty tragedy about a good man slowly corrupted into murderous evil. Up-and-coming Australian director Justin Kurzel gives the "Scottish play" a distinctly Scottish air, with plenty of misty grey highlands and cold candlelit buildings, although the hinted "explanation" for the Macbeths' slow descent into madness and murder feels a bit like a cop-out.
Shortly after a victory in battle, Macbeth (Fassbender) and his friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) are traveling home across a heath when they encounter three witches -- who greet them with shocking news. According to them, Macbeth will be the Thane of Cawdor (something he initially doesn't believe) and then the he "shalt be king hereafter!" So when MacBeth is unexpectedly made Thane of Cawdor, he naturally begins to think that being king might be next in line.
As these thoughts worm into his head, King Duncan (David Thewlis) has the poor timing to come stay for a visit, and declare his son Malcolm (Jack Reynor) his heir. As he struggles with temptation, Lady MacBeth (Marion Cotillard) goads her husband into murdering the king and framing a couple of innocent servants for the deed. As the witches predicted, MacBeth becomes king of Scotland.
But the witches also prophesied that Banquo would be the father of kings, so MacBeth starts tying off loose ends by hiring assassins to kill Banquo and his young son, as well as a wily thane named MacDuff (Sean Harris) and all of his family. But though MacBeth believes himself to be safe from everyone, his fear begins to grow as madness and guilt torment him and his wife -- and what he thinks could never happen may come to pass.
Kurzel's "Macbeth" attempts to give a historical sheen to Shakespeare's very unhistorical tale -- he sets it in a very medieval world of cold wooden houses barely lit by candlelight, shadowed forests, rough-woven cloth, foggy heaths, and grey skies. It's a dark and misty tale, perpetually stuck at twilight and full of shadows that cling to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth like so many demons. For the time period it's set in, it's probably the most realistic depiction of medieval Scotland ever to grace Shakespeare's play.
As a result, it probably won't be for everyone -- the grey murky skies can be rather depressing, and the night scenes can be difficult to see clearly. But it helps highlight the gravity and tragedy of the story. A cloud of dread hangs over almost every scene, and Kurzel often drifts into slow-motion and silence during important scenes (the stabbing, the icily-lit coronation), giving the proceedings a strangely nightmarish quality. Some scenes are more nightmarish for their realism (the murder of Banquo while his sobbing son watches), while others for their surreality (Macbeth seeing the slain walking past him).
Fassbender is absolutely perfect as Macbeth, and it's clear he was throwing every ounce of his considerable talent into the role -- he inspires our sympathy with his grave, tragic mien at the story's beginning, but slowly grows more wild-eyed, frenetic and outright CRAZY as the story rolls on. By the time Macbeth declares,"How full of scorpions is my mind," it's pretty clear that madness is eating away at him... which isn't surprising, since he spends most of that scene holding a knife on his wife.
Marion Cotillard isn't quite the powerhouse that Fassbender is here, but she gives a steely, intense performance as Lady Macbeth, implied to be a woman so wracked by grief and dark anger that she is pouring her maternal drive into seeking the throne. When she isn't trying to get her husband to stop acting like a freak, she berates his manhood. And they have a solid backing cast of experienced actors giving grave, strong performances, including Thewlis, Considine, Harris and Reynor.
The biggest problem is perhaps the odd subplot involving the death of the Macbeths' child, which seems to be suggested as the motivation for their actions. It does give new dimensions to Lady Macbeth's musings on womanhood, but it feels like Kurzel is shying away from the central theme of the play -- that any good, noble man could become a corrupt monster if he gives into temptation.
With the exception of that subplot, "Macbeth" is a haunting, shadowy adaptation of Shakespeare's great play, and is worth seeing alone for the powerful, rich performance that Fassbender graces us with. A beautiful and rich film, but not always an easy one to watch.
- Actors: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis
- Directors: Justin Kurzel
- Format: PAL
- Region: Region 4 (This version of the DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: UniversalSony
- DVD Release Date: 11 Feb 2016
- Run Time: 113 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- ASIN: B01EDELQ3S
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