Macbeth review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
With so many entries in the sword-and-sandal genre of action-based drama, no doubt spawned by the popularity of Game of Thrones, it was inevitable that MacBeth would be put up for such a treatment. The classically violent and dark nature of Shakespeare’s story is given the expected decadence of cold battlefields, darkly-lit kingdoms and brutal deaths. I can’t exactly say it’s an interpretation I was impressed with so much as a predictable production.
No expense is spared with trying to conceive a grim and dreary tone. An all-star is assembled that includes the stoic Michael Fassbender as the titular king, the always-a-joy-to-watch Marion Cotillard as Lady MacBeth and a surprisingly performance by Sean Harris as Macduff. They all deliver great performances that never feel off, even if they are perhaps being too subtle by whispering nearly all of their dialogue (or drowning it in screams and battle cries). Director Justin Kurzel has an amazing eye for cinematography, shooting in large fields and spacious kingdom halls. He doesn’t shy away from the violence either with deaths quite bloody and fires most bright.
But there just seems to be something missing from his adaptation. The story is very straightforward, the visuals beautiful and the action intense. But the consistent tone of the dreary perhaps doesn’t capture the true spirit of the writing. I kept waiting for Fassbender or Cotillard to deliver that one scene which made me marvel at their talents with such classic material, but it never came. On one hand, this would be beneficial for the production in how they stick close to their characters and the text. But why would I want to watch a production of MacBeth where these actors were not at their best?
Most of the scenes of death and action are shot in a non-linear fashion. This style has its moments of brilliance as with the scenes on the battlefield that give us different angles and shots between slayings. But then there are moments where it feels ill-fitting as when MacBeth murders Duncan. The movie cuts to shots before and after the stabbing, as well as shots outside and of other characters, as the stabbing takes place. Such editing felt better suited for a trailer than a film. The death of Duncan isn’t intense and dramatic enough?
This brings about the biggest issue with the movie is that it favors more of the visuals over the text. The sights of muted Scottish hills and deep orange fires are very pleasing to the eye, but the characters and their motivations do not match such epic displays. The dialogue is kept quiet and mumbled, almost as if the actors are embarrassed or fearful to be speaking old English. More devotion was put into making sure we can see their breath on the cold battlefield than the atmosphere of the original story.
In the sense of trying to create a more subtle interpretation, MacBeth comes off as both faithful and ill-fitting. While a technical marvel, it fails to capitalize on Shakespeare’s grand display of theatrics by relying more on soulful gazes into the cameras and less on projecting powerful lines. The last thing a theatrical display of MacBeth should have me doing is guzzling caffeine to stay awake and cranking my speakers to decipher the slurred and mumbled dialogue. There’s some genuine talent here, but it needs to wake up to be the masterpiece Justin Kurzel was aiming towards.