Director: Justin Kurzel
Writers: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, David Hayman, James Harkness, Ross Anderson, and David Thewlis.
Synopsis: Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name, Macbeth may be one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, because I love the complicated characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It also lends itself to be interpreted in many different ways – like all Shakespeare’s plays – Hollywood has made many different versions of the character from Orson Wells directing and starring as the character himself, Roman Polanski’s take starring Jon Finch, and even a modern-day gangland iteration from Australia which starred Sam Worthington. However, director Justin Kurzel and the cast take a more visually impactful, grim, gritty and artistic film that would probably make Shakespeare himself proud (too much?).
Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth, the Thane of Scotland, who at the beginning of the film leads King Duncan’s (Thewlis) army to victory in a bloody battle that gets him a better place amongst Duncan’s court. After the battle however, Macbeth along with his friend and battle partner Banquo (Considine) encounter four witches – three adults and one child – that tell him Macbeth he will one day become King of Scotland. Macbeth curious of their prophecy goes back home and tells his wife Lady Macbeth, played by Marion Cotillard, of what he was told and she convinces him to fulfill his destiny and kill the king himself, rather than wait to let the crown be passed on to Duncan’s heir, Malcolm (Reynor).
If you know the play – or watch the trailers – Macbeth eventually convinces himself, of course with much convincing from his wife, and kills Duncan in his sleep. Macbeth becomes king, takes the throne and slowly grows paranoid of everyone around him, including his own friend Banquo and Macduff (Harris). What follows is his and Lady Macbeth’s own descent to madness and paranoia that lead them deeper into darkness with no way of coming back.
I’ll be honest, it’s hard to review a film based on a play that maybe most of us, if not all of us, read in high school or maybe even college. But, like I mentioned, the play happens to be one of my favorites and when I found out that this was being done with Fassbender and Cotillard, I got really giddy and excited. Thankfully, the movie didn’t disappoint. Sure they changed some things around, like the fact that there are four witches instead of three, even though the youngest witch which happens to be a child never speaks, or even that some events are tweaked, omitted or even added, but truth be told, the changes they made really make the film work.
I’d dare say that of all the Macbeth films I’ve seen this is the most moody and grimiest take I’ve seen. That could be thanks to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw who does a fantastic job of making every scene feel different from the next and giving the film it real dark, gritty and down to the bone artistic type of the film that sometimes make you wonder if what you are seeing is all in Macbeth’s head or if it’s really there. Hell, some of the scenes and shots look like a moving painting and are stylized in such a way that brings you into the gloomy atmosphere of the film. One of the big highlights is the last act of the film that involves the “Birnam forest” and the final battle which has a fantastic atmosphere that I loved being a part of. Add that with the amazing production design and wardrobe, Macbeth is probably one of the best looking films of the year. It truly is probably the best looking Shakespeare adaptation ever made.
But, when it comes down to it, Macbeth works because of two people: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Taking on these two characters isn’t the easiest task – especially in the Shakespearian verse – but both Fassbender and Cotillard are and were highly capable to bringing these two twisted and complex characters to life in their own way. Fassbender’s portrayal slowly unravels as the film goes on. You can see him become paranoid of everyone around him and the grand diner scene is something that was truly great to witness. Even the famous “O, full of scorpions is my mind” speech is something that Kurzel and Fassbender bring to life so well that Macbeth is literally saying the lines as he’s clenching his teeth and is about to crack.
When it comes to Cotillard, some of her scenes are just amazing to sit through. For most her scenes, including the “to bed” scene, Kurzel simply just lets the camera linger and slowly move in on Cotillard as she delivers her lines. Her take on the character, for me, proves that Lady Macbeth is much more of a tragic character than Macbeth himself. She can see that monster that she created and the monster than she allowed herself to be. She wanted the power and pushed and manipulated her husband to kill the king so they can take it all, but the cost is something she didn’t think of. Dare I say, Cotillard steals the film from Fassbender, which is not an easy task nowadays.
The supporting cast aren’t too bad themselves, but with Fassbender and Cotillard having most of the screen time it’s reasonable why they’d be overlooked. Sean Harris, who plays Macduff, plays Macduff as a more silent type at first, but when pushed to his own breaking point he becomes a mad and rage-filled man himself. Paddy Considine is almost unrecognizable as Banquo and delivers a great, short and sweet performance. The same can be said for Elizabeth Debicki, who plays, Lady Macduff. She only in about three scenes total, but one of those scenes completely delivers and changes everything for one of the characters.
All in all, Macbeth is a great atmospheric, gloomy, artistic iteration and approach to the famous characters. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard bring their A-game with director Justin Kurzel to deliver a great film that like all Shakespeare material will probably have to be watched multiple times absorb everything.
5 out of 5