Magazine article Screen International

'Macbeth': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Macbeth': Review

Article excerpt

Dir. Justin Kurzel. UK/Aus, 2015, 113 mins

Justin Kurzel weighs into Macbeth with a bloody axe and an ambition to rival the Thane of Cawdor's. Setting the action in a savagely-inhospitable Scotland, the Australian director of Snowtown has the mettle to lay into 400 years of familiarity and reassemble Shakespeare's Scottish play in a version which may be imperfect, but is also quite unforgettable

Kurzel and writers Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso and Michael Lesslie have unpicked some of the structure of the Great Bard's play to produce a film which is obsessed with death, corpses (the film's opening shot is of an infant in a grave) and the bloody brutality of war in the untamed, barely-civilised world of 11th Century Scotland where ghosts walk amongst the living (Shakespeare is relegated here to a "based on" credit).

Along for the physically-punishing ride is a guerrilla band of actors led by a vital Michael Fassbender in the title role and Marion Cotillard as an oddly detached, French-accented Lady Macbeth, shooting for the most part in gruelling exteriors on location in the wilds of Inverness and the Gothic interiors of Ely Cathedral. For all that Kurzel's vision is at heart an old-fashioned, sword-clashing blood-and-guts spectacle, he gives Macbeth a modern sensibility, presenting the Thane's actions as being provoked by the death of a child and the horrors of war (the well-staged battle and combat sequences, it must be noted, make Braveheart look like a trip to the spa). Kurzel's witches are, to use an abused term, fantastically organic to the piece.

This, and an overpowering visual aesthetic which pays fulsome tribute to both Kurosawa's Ran and Nicholas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising, could prompt upscale theatrical interest in Macbeth in all markets, skewing towards younger audiences, although this is far too dark for the Romeo + Juliet crowd.

Competing at Cannes, Macbeth suffers from a fundamental weaknesss in the relationship between Macbeth and his wife, however. Cotillard's Lady Macbeth is too fragile in this partnership, overshadowed by Fassbender and Kurzel's meaty, masculine vision. The fact that some of her dialogue is occasionally indistinguishable, perhaps due to adverse filming conditions in the wilds of Scotland, doesn't help. Although he is not a stage actor, Fassbender's Macbeth is pure and highly physical while Sean Harris proves a revelation as Macduff. …

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