Arguably Shakespeare’s most morally fucked-up play, Macbeth has enamoured some of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, from Akira Kurosawa to Orson Welles and Roman Polanski, each to their own producing dark visions of the Scottish tragedy to varying levels of artistic potency. Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood remains the most enigmatic, most otherworldly of them all, relocating the drama to the Japanese milieu to such startling effect, while Polanski’s compelling, if all-too-literal, adaptation runs second best. There’s no doubting the slippery, elusive nature of getting the Bard right on screen, but Kurosawa and Polanski might have found a muscular successor to their throne in the seemingly dilettante figure of Justin Kurzel – who, with only one film under his filmographic belt, the gritty Australian crime drama Snowtown, navigates the murky, troublesome Shakespearean waters with dazzling confidence and unquestionable talent.[divider]+[/divider]
Kurzel’s Macbeth may just be the most visually astonishing and psychologically astute cinematic reworking of the play, conceiving this centuries-old tale with a fresh perspective that’ll take your breath away.[divider]+[/divider]
For Kurzel’s Macbeth may just be the most visually astonishing and psychologically astute cinematic reworking of the play, conceiving this centuries-old tale with a fresh perspective that’ll take your breath away. It’s no simple feat for a yarn that’s been told many times before, and yet Kurzel’s vision boldly draws resonance and power from what could have been a deadbeat interpretation of this material. The Macbeths’ blood-soaked quest for political power has been given an entirely new dimension, raising the curtains for this doomed stage with a family tragedy – the death of a child.
Grief pushes humans into oblivion and this allows us to see the Macbeths as deeply damaged beings, blinded by their misery and their instinctive hunger for some form of retribution, even if that involves murdering their way to the top. Sure, the witches (here portrayed not like hags but as soothsayers) foretell doom and gloom, but supernatural forces are kept to a bare minimum in favour of emotional realism. The madness of the Macbeths has already been sown, and it’s their untold sorrow that sets their descent to nihilism.
It’s this stunning human darkness that this Macbeth plumbs its depths and builds an ominous piece of coup de cinéma around it, moodily swathing the scenes with dreadful fog, furious battles and non-linear editing, often mirroring the Thane of Cawdor’s disintegrating mental state. Often, Kurzel’s film look so terribly elegant in its staging and execution, with Animal Kingdom and True Detective lenser Adam Arkapaw capturing a palette of stark, suitably intense images, that it’s hard to process that a bleak-as-fuck tragedy could look as artfully exquisite as this. There’s a brutal minimalism in its cinematographic approach that despite its mediaeval setting, Kurzel and Arkapaw appropriate an apocalyptic mood all throughout as though this was set in a non-time specific dystopia, where humanity has devolved into its primal bid for power and survival.
Ultimately, what is Macbeth without Acting, elevating this show into sublime levels of performance art with the dark, brooding duet of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, both reinforcing Shakespeare’s verse with haunting ferocity and conviction. Ever the character actor, Fassbender embodies the tragic king’s fractured state with believable nuance, slowly and carefully revealing his derangement through a studied, internalised performance. Beside him, Cotillard dazzles with slow-burn magnificence, constantly defying the Crazy Bitch levels of lunacy that the Lady Macbeth often necessitates. But Cotillard, the World’s Greatest Actress Who Isn’t Meryl Streep, tempers and restrains one of the most manipulative characters in literature into a multidimensional being, transforming a palpably aggrieved mother to a seething, conniving wife-cum-accomplice and finally into a broken woman who must face her own moral culpability. That scene of Lady Macbeth practically going apeshit with her “To bed” monologue could have been delivered by any inferior actor with a stereotypical loony-bin hysteria, but Cotillard commands something from a Higher Order. Her face on the camera and nothing else, peeling multitude layers of remorse and despair with such heartbreaking commitment. Such is the exquisite characterisation here that this Macbeth will stay with you long after the credits end.