I must admit that Macbeth slipped under my radar. However, after seeing a rather impressive trailer, it quickly rose to the top of my list. Justin Kurzel demonstrated a very grounded, yet unique take for his version. How well does this new adaptation stack up?
By Kenneth Shipp
I would usually refuse to start a review with cinematography. However, this film is just so dang beautiful….Forgive me for a sec, I may need a tissue. Okay, I’m better now. Where was I? Yes, the beauty of this film, it can’t be overstated. Aside from The Assassin, Mad Max and The Revenant (haven’t seen yet, just speculating), Macbeth may take home some hardware this year for the cinematography. Two scenes have stayed with me since my first viewing. The first being the initial battle Macbeth leads against Scotland and Norway. We are introduced to the 3 witches as this battle takes place. Macbeth stands in the middle of the carnage, savagely engaging and then becoming paralyzed gazing at the witches. It was rather powerful seeing the battle unfold around him and how time was slowed/played with in this scene.
The second scene is the burning of the Great Birnam Wood. Not sure what I’m talking about? In the play, the woods are not burned, but cut and carried as camouflage thus fulfilling one of the prophecies. In Kurzel’s version, Macduff, Prince Malcolm and their forces burn down the forest, effective concealing their them. The ashes of the Birnam Wood engulf the Dunsinane Hill achieving an incredible effect and fulfilling the prophecy. Macbeth and Macduff engage in battle among hot ash, red & orange fire all swirling around in an endless vapor. The use of mist concealed the actions of the witches and the various ghosts/visions that haunted Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The dramatic change from a light morning mist earlier in the film, compared to the final scene, with dark figures in the fiery backdrop was simply amazing. It’s likely we won’t receive such a visceral moment again for a long while.
Fassbender shows off his impressive range and brings an excellent crazed out look. No, it’s not a Nick Cage kind of crazy. These are legitimately defeated eyes that are ashamed of the murders he’s carried out. He wears the face of guilt rather well and doesn’t run from that place. It was a delight to see him deteriorate his character piece by piece. Cotillard shines as Lady Macbeth and reminded me of any number of her strong performances. The switch she has to make from confident, power driven spouse to the guilt-ridden accomplice is done very well. The composed face she wore defiantly in spite of her husband cracks during the execution of Macduff’s family. Whatever composure had been there is drained soon after and we finally get to see Lady Macbeth’s full descent into despair.
There are decent additions to Fassbender, the most notable being Sean Harris as Macduff. You may remember him recently from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation as the rather forgettable bad guy. You won’t forget about him here. He expresses Macduff’s grief in a very powerful way, whether over the king’s death or his own family. I’ve already stated how gorgeous the final fight is, but it’s also accented by Harris’s performance in these moments.
It’s very refreshing to see an old classic, preserved in some of its elements and progressively pushed in others. I would surmise Kurzel’s Macbeth will rank highly in the modern adaptations of Shakespearean plays. While the dialogue may disarm or keep others disengaged, the visual effects and wow factor will keep many tuned in and excited.
Macbeth: 8.5 out of 10