REVIEW: Macbeth

13 12 2015

MacbethRoger Ebert once famously quipped, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” This maxim seems to apply doubly so to Justin Kurzel’s take on the Scottish Play, William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Scripters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso take five acts from the Bard and condense them to under two hours on screen. Though no film need overstay its welcome, these screenwriters seem a little too eager to abridge the rich source material. Part of the experience of “Macbeth” is being able to observe the gradual changes in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as the quest for power corrodes their souls. With fewer opportunities to see that conflict play out, it follows that their journeys feel a little less complete.

Having less Shakespearean verse tossed around plays to the strengths of Kurzel, a director whose films thrive on mood and ambiance. In both “Macbeth” and his debut, 2012’s “The Snowtown Murders,” collaborations with director of photography Adam Arkapaw have set brooding, haunting tones from expertly calibrated shots. Here, they focus on the landscape of the Scottish Highlands and how effortlessly it dwarves the characters who pass through it. At the very least, this helps differentiate his take on “Macbeth” from anything one could see on the stage, shrinking actors to mere cogs in the cosmos.

Unfortunately, he never quite finds a cinematic language that makes Shakespeare’s soliloquies feel as natural as the countryside vistas. Try as he might, Kurzel still remains at a bit of a loss as to how to present long stretches of uninterrupted dialogue, a convention audiences have decided to accept when framed inside a proscenium arch. The challenge has escaped many filmmakers, so he’s in good company. Fortunately, Kurzel has two incredible actors in Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard to deliver the dialogue and distract from any staginess.

Lady Macbeth

The day that these two actors, arguably the most consistently exciting performers working today, united was always going to be a sight to see. “Macbeth” does not disappoint. Fassbender’s ferocious take on the famed character is indelible. His sweaty, seething performance keeps most of Macbeth’s fear and anger bottled up, mostly finding release in shots where Kurzel minimizes him in the frame. For someone so powerful in the moment to appear so small on screen proves an excellent way of expressing his fear of being usurped.

Cotillard gets more chances to show her steely devilishness as Lady Macbeth, often getting some rather icy close-ups in which she can throw some serious shade. Many people (myself included) view her as the more compelling character in the play itself, but that did not prove to be the case here. Lady Macbeth gets shrunk to a largely supporting role in this “Macbeth,” arguably to the film’s detriment. I found myself wanting more scenes of her egging on her husband and more time to view her internal machinations, just like I wanted more of “Macbeth” in general. B+3stars

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