I have been really excited for this movie since I heard about it. I like Micheal Fassbender and I like Shakespeare (I was surprised to discover this is the first Shakespeare adaptation I’ve reviewed on the blog), so you can imagine my excitement when I saw the trailer. The film started up and I was entranced. It continued on and I was less so.
Maybe it’s my problem with the actual play of Macbeth; it’s never been my favorite. I’ve never seen it adapted in any form before, and I always seem to forget the particulars of what happens. So going into this film, my relative unfamiliarity with the story of Macbeth might have caused me some problems. However, at the same time, a movie should stand on its own so I feel that I can say I was confused by this movie. I always knew what was going on in the movie, but what the director was going for or how the characters felt was another story.
The film opens with an infant’s funeral. We see the child lying on a pyre in the Scottish moors, and the parents Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) in mourning. Then we get a Star Wars style opening crawl that informs us of the civil war raging in Scotland, and that Macbeth is on the side of King Duncan (David Thewlis). Then a battle begins, and the weird sisters appear. After the battle, Macbeth and another general Banquo (Paddy Considine) receive prophecies that tell them Macbeth will become king and Banquo will father kings. With that, Macbeth, encouraged by his wife, goes on a murderous quest to fulfill his destiny, but descends into madness along the way.
I think the idea is supposed to be that Macbeth is loyal to King Duncan, just having fought a giant war for him and all, so that he feels pretty bad about the idea of killing him to become king. Lady Macbeth pushes him to it, insulting his manhood if he doesn’t go along. I never really understood why they were so ambitious, and I think the film tries to tie it into their lack of children, something I don’t really remember from the play but then again I don’t remember a lot of stuff from the play.
The whole film is done in such a brutal and stark manner that the Macbeths’ madness and guilt seemed a bit strange to me, which is probably weird to say. Perhaps if some contrast had been allowed in the relentlessly dark tone, we would have felt a bit for Macbeth and his wife when they both start to go crazy. But because all anybody does here is kill each other for their own advancement, I: A. had some trouble believing that they would feel any guilt about it at all because they are so bloodthirsty and everything and B. didn’t really care when they started to.
Though all of that could just be a matter of taste. Overall, whether or not you agree that the approach Kurzel takes is effective or not, you have to admire just how fully it’s realized. Everything in this movie fits in with the brutal atmosphere he’s going for, from the acting styles to the costumes to the cinematography to the score; one thing you can’t fault Kurzel for is the control he exhibits over every frame. Everything is brutal and harsh, from the magnificent and desolate landscape shots to the grimy war paint on Macbeth’s face in battle. There were many shots in this film that took my breath away with how economical yet beautiful they were. The compositions were so definite and deliberate, with characters often looking directly into the lens, that the sheer force of them were impressive.
However, there’s another aspect of the shooting and the editing of this movie that I liked far less, and that’s the slow motion. It’s basically a cliche to use slow motion during battle scenes, and slow motion is a thing I’m really not a fan of in the first place, that is if it’s used ostentatiously as it is here. I don’t have a super great reason for not liking it here other than I just don’t like it, but guys, I really really don’t like it. Furthermore, I had real trouble figuring out whether some speeches were actually being said aloud. The picture was edited in such a way that it was hard to tell sometimes whether or not people were actually speaking or if it was just voice over, which tends to matter later in the film when logic doesn’t necessarily apply.
I may not be a fan of everything in this film, I may have lost the threads somewhere along the way, but I also really liked a lot of things about it in isolation. I didn’t talk about the score by Jed Kurzel too much, which was actually my favorite part of the movie. It’s a lot of droning strings, sounding ancient and modern and the same time, and of course keeping up that very harsh and brutal feeling the movie has throughout. A lot of the individual elements in this movie I loved, but when you add them all up, Macbeth is sadly quite a bit less than the sum of its parts.
“I dare do all that may become a man. Who dares do more is none.”
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
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