Adapted from the classic Shakespeare play, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) leads the Scottish army in victory against a revolt, and is prophesized as the next king of Scotland, leading to a bloody path of murder and madness for Macbeth and his wife (Marion Cotillard).
When you adapt a Shakespeare play and go all out, including using the language (there’s plenty of “thous” and “shalts”), you better have your T’s crossed and I’s dotted. It’s no easy task. I respect the challenge, and there’s certainly a lot of good pieces here, but I couldn’t get into this film for the life of me. I tried like hell. Every fifteen minutes or so, I’d get drawn back in, but I never stayed. The failure of this film lies in the characters – they simply weren’t compelling.
There’s no doubting the talent of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and performing old school Shakespeare is the greatest challenge for any actor, especially on film. In the first act, I didn’t care about Macbeth. Fassbender looked confused and sort of crazy, but that’s it. As the movie went on, he got better. When they really delved into his guilt and madness over his treacherous and bloody acts, you at least felt something for the character. In one of the rare great scenes, Macbeth yells incoherently at a feast where his many guests look on at their new troubling king. There’s also a sequence where Macbeth paces around his bedroom that was quite effective. When the film moves away from the heavy dialogue and focuses more on the action of the characters, it works, but sadly it relies too heavily on the old timey speech.
Cotillard fared much better. Not that there was any doubt, but she’s clearly one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today. With this type of dialogue, you have to pedal fast to keep up, but even when you’re lost in her words, she was always compelling, including one of her last monologues where it’s her in front of a camera for about five minutes, reminiscent of Anne Hathaway’s show stopper from Les Miserables. Whether she was conniving, sadistic or guilt ridden, Lady Macbeth was always compelling. Aside from a solid performance from David Thewlis as King Duncan, and Lochlann Harris as Fleance, a small, but crucial role as one of the kids, there wasn’t much to write home about in the acting department. Everyone else felt like background dressing.
While the characters are lacking, the cinematography does not. The film looks gorgeous. If you really like the color red, you won’t be disappointed. Credit to Adam Arkapaw who was the director of photography, as we see another guy who will probably beat Roger Deakins at the Academy Awards. The first fifteen minutes in particular are remarkable, as we get a cool looking opening crawl, and a brutally shot battle. Unfortunately, the film gets too artsy-fartsy with slow motion hallucination dream shenanigans, but those end early on. When that garbage finally gets ignored, you can appreciate the film’s look to the very end. Aside from the cinematography, the score is also beautiful. It’s intense when it needs to be, but also quiet. Credit to Jed Kurzel, the composer.
While there’s a lot of pieces that work, it’s missing the substance of character to make it memorable. Quite honestly, I had the same reaction to this film that I did for Avatar. There’s a lot to admire, but I left completely empty. The director (Justin Kurzel) does an admirable job, but he’s not up to task. If you had someone like Darren Aronofsky at the helm, this could have been awesome. He knows how to explore a character’s madness better than anybody. Macbeth is pretty to look at, but I was relieved for it to end.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)