Featuring:: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, Paddy Considine
Director: Justin Kurzel
Writers: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso (adapted from Shakespeare’s play)
Movie website: www.transmissionfilms.com.au/films/macbeth
Australian release date: Thu 1 Oct
Verdict: Excels as a visual realisation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but is let down by hard-to-hear dialogue and less-than-stellar performances.
As a visual imagining of the war-torn Scotland of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this gothy adaptation by Australian director Justin Kurzel excels. As with his brilliant 2011 feature debut, Snowtown, he combines a grim setting – in this case, the brutal, foggy, sodden highlands – with a brooding musical soundscape to convey a sense of gloom and foreboding. The dark mood directly reflects the inner turmoil of murderous and morally fraught lead character, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), a fearsome warrior in battle yet no match for his deftly manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), who exploits his ambition and lust for power (and her), persuading him to kill the king, Duncan (David Thewlis), and seize the throne. Neither anticipate the demons of conscience that will torment them ever after.
Macbeth strives to ensure that the prophesy of his downfall made by a trio of witches (who materialise eerily in and out of the highland mists) does not come to pass by visiting further atrocities on his rivals and their families. There are ambushes and killings in the wood, the burning at the stake of a young family, and some tremendously well staged and shot battle scenes.
Unfortunately, there is a problem, and it’s a serious one: it’s difficult to hear the dialogue. Vocal projection is part of the stage actor’s craft, but sounds unnatural in a film. Nevertheless, this is Shakespeare – you’ve gotta be able to hear the actors’ lines! Far too often, Fassbinder, in particular, is indistinct in his enunciation. Factor in the Scottish brogue and the intrusion of the score, and many viewers – those who aren’t Scottish or well familiar with the play, at least – will be left straining to pick up what’s going on. That makes for a frustrating experience, compromising emotional involvement, rendering the narrative hard to follow, and worst of all undermining one of the great tortured characters of western literature!
It’s some consolation that Macbeth’s famous “sound and fury” soliloquy comes across loud and clear.
Perhaps largely due to the dialogue discernability issues, the performances, while competent, fall well short of inspirational.
Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing for its visual power alone. Some of the imagery is stunningly dramatic and figuratively profoundly resonant (a scene towards the end of a slain Macbeth left upright in death, kneeling in a supplication pose, is a case in point). If you don’t know the play well, though, read it before you go so you can follow the narrative – or take a short cut and have a look at the synopsis on Wikipedia. I won’t tell if you don’t.
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