I am not a Shakespeare expert. I am not someone who longs for the lost art of language found in his plays. I am, however, a fan of good stories and Director Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Macbeth is a doozy.
Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is a general fighting on the side of King Duncan (David Thewlis) against an uprising in Scotland. At the conclusion of the final battle. He spies Three Witches observing the action. They tell Macbeth that he will be Thane of Cawdor and, eventually, King of Scotland. They tell Macbeth’s friend and comrade, Banquo (Paddy Considine), he will father kings, but will not be one himself. Macbeth is not impressed until King Duncan does indeed make him Thane of Cawdor. Upon informing his wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) of the Witches’ predictions, she immediately spurs Macbeth on to murder the king—Macbeth is his kin and actually in the line of succession. When he finally does the deed and frames Duncan’s aides for the crime, Macbeth allows Duncan’s son, Malcom (Jack Reynor), to flee to England, making the prince look guilty as well. One of Duncan’s trusted men, Macduff (Sean Harris), is suspicious, but it is of no consequence—Macbeth is King of Scotland. However, as he reigns, guilt and paranoia drive the man to madness. Will he take Scotland down with him or will a savior come to rescue the Scottish people from Macbeth’s tyranny?
I never read Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, something that probably would have gone a long way to help me understand just what the hell these people were saying. The issue I had wasn’t just that the English the actors used was more or less a foreign language, but also a lot of it was mumbled. Screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso adapted Shakespeare’s play, but it seems that much of the same dialogue was used. This would be fine for the stage, where lines are delivered loudly and clearly, but with a film, actors play to the camera and can keep their voices low, making some of the dialogue near-unintelligible. However, the stellar acting and through line of the story were so clear, I had no problem following what was going on, which is a credit to the actors and Shakespeare’s strength as a storyteller. The story moves quickly too, almost too quickly. Director Kurzel helps set the tone at the start with a scene that I don’t believe is in the original play, but goes a long way to explaining Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s spiral into madness. At the start of the film, the couple buries their only child—an event that would drive any parent to insanity. It really sets the stage for Macbeth’s quick descent.
The cinematography in this film is absolutely gorgeous. There are so many brilliant shots by Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw that I lost count. Even if you can’t follow what’s going on, Macbeth is a spectacular film to look at. The fight choreography is also topnotch. The final battle is both beautiful to look at and brutal.
The actors do a brilliant job delivering the dialogue and telling the story. The lion’s share of the praise has to go to Fassbender. He perfectly captures Macbeth’s downward trajectory and gives a fantastic performance that captivates throughout. Cotillard is superb as Lady Macbeth. She also does an excellent job detailing her own descent into madness. Though she is the one who compels Macbeth to do the deed, she’d the first to regret her actions. The rest of the cast does fine work, but the stars are clearly Fassbender and Cotillard. Special mention for Harris too, who has a couple of great grief-filled scenes as Macduff.
Overall, if you’re a Shakespeare fan, you’ll probably enjoy Macbeth. Those who don’t appreciate the bard may find themselves getting a little bored, but I was engaged throughout. A solid adaptation.