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.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 1, 2014)

1 08 2014

The Snowtown MurdersIt usually takes a director two to three features to work out the kinks in their style and settle into a comfortable groove of filmmaking.  That is not the case, however, for Australian director Justin Kurzel.  His debut film, “The Snowtown Murders,” has the confidence and assurance of a director with far more experience under his belt.

Yet even without grading on a curve, it still merits the title of “F.I.L.M. of the Week” for Kurzel’s virtuosic control over mood and atmosphere.  Though a title like “The Snowtown Murders” had me in a mindset expecting something like “Bonnie & Clyde,” following a serial killer from their perspective, the film delivers something else entirely.

Kurzel provides all the chilly commentary on the allure of sociopathic killers that you might expect from a Fincher film like “Zodiac” but adds an incredibly satisfying humanist element.  “The Snowtown Murders” is less about the titular acts themselves and more about the man who perpetrated them, as well as the entourage of bystanders who did nothing to stop them.

The film is told not from the perspective of the actual murderer, John Bunting, but of a 16-year-old boy Jamie drawn into his web of violence.  Bunting spies an opening to tap into some simmering hatred and lust for revenge in a small Australian community, funneling their anger into consent for violent retribution.  Kurzel doesn’t sensationalize the goriness of Bunting’s savagery, though he hardly shies away from it, either.

These bloody events help release some of the tension in “The Snowtown Murders,” yet it hardly dissipates between killings.  Kurzel allows the very darkness of the story drive the film, something it can only do effectively because of his masterful control over tone.  Though he does struggle some with extended sequences of dialogue, his montages are simply mesmerizing.  Kurzel strings together some haunting images and makes them pulsate with a broodingly dark energy (also a function of Jed Kurzel’s score).  And to think, this is Justin Kurzel’s baseline…