Synopsis: Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Justin Kurzel
Running Length: 113 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Everyone has their favorite Shakespeare play (or they should) and while I’ve always gravitated toward the comedies more than the tragedies, if I had to pick one of his darker works I’d go with Macbeth without much hesitation. There’s something so sinister about the plot, something so overtly wicked about it that it has kept me interested in whatever iteration is released. I’ve seen it on film, and onstage as a play and an opera and it’s malicious deeds always give me the chills.
There have been several screen adaptation of Macbeth over the years (as well as some clever twists on it, see Scotland, PA for a fun one) and they’ve all made their own mark. Justin Kurzel’s 2015 Macbeth is the shortest adaptation so far, truncating Shakespeare’s prose down to its barest core and taking some liberties with the action that may have purists sharpening their knives.
While watching the film, I was decadently disengaged. I went in thinking I would instantly love it, especially considering the leads were cast with two of my favorite actors working today. Yet throughout the two hours I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the proceedings like I expected to. It usually takes me a few minutes to acclimate to Shakespeare’s dialogue but I struggled mightily, even knowing the play fairly well. Artfully made and shrewdly performed, it didn’t grab me.
Then I had some time to think about the film and slowly but surely I realized just how effective the piece was. It’s not your typical Macbeth adaptation and more’s the better for it. Sure, it’s been slashed to smithereens but what Kurzel cuts he makes up for with imagery and imagination that fill in the gaps for us.
I’d always considered Macbeth more of a pawn to his wife’s ambition but Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) plays the Thane of Scotland as conflicted yet not contrite. He may have needed the initial push from his significant other but once he gets going he finds that he can’t stop his mission to rise to power. In typical Fassbender form, it’s an all-in approach that gives the character fearsome depth and calculated strength.
Equal to (and possible besting) her co-star, Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) takes on the famous role of Lady Macbeth and chooses to add anxiety into her ambitious ways. Her urging her husband to commit heinous acts comes from a survival instinct…but she realizes too late the machine she’s helped start will bring about their downfall instead of their ascension. Cotillard has a thrilling monologue late in the film that’s simply shot but complex in its delivery.
The rest of the cast has to take whatever remnants screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso have left of their roles, with Sean Harris (Prometheus, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) getting the most out of his turn as Macduff. Good cracks from Paddy Considine (The World’s End), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a most minor appearance from Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) round out the supporting players.
Not everyone will love this Macbeth…I sure didn’t when it was happening in front of me. However, taking the time to ponder it in the hours/days after I found that my appreciation for the work only grew. It wasn’t what I expected and that wound up working in its favor.