Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Review: Macbeth

Year: 2015
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenplay: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis

Synopsis is here:

Note: Spoilers are featured, but I’d be slightly worried if you don’t know the story.

Despite his status as the world’s greatest playwright, for many, the name William Shakespeare only provides recollections of dog eared worn school books. Possibly with drab, seemingly never ending lessons. Will is the most important English writer, but how he’s taught can often be a dour experience.

Enter Snowtown director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, which could possibly revive those half-forgotten memories of lost afternoons buried in reference books. This adaptation isn’t by no way horrible to look at. Its lavish cinematography is light years ahead of the Shakespeare animated tales that this blogger had to watch. Despite this, through the gloomy mist and ground muddied by split blood and sweat, Kurzel’s Macbeth is a peculiarly subdued adaptation.

The beauty of cinematic adaptation, fanboys be damned, is what another pair of hands can do to mold the clay. Here Kurzel works with what he’s known for: getting down with the dirt. Much like Snowtown, you can feel the grit under the nails of everyone involved. The secondary actors, who speak with genuine Scottish accents are distracting at times, but only due to the nature of how often Shakespeare is displayed to us. Such naturalistic tones along with the simple set design and Barry Lyndon style low lighting, keeps the atmosphere of the piece as rough as it can be.

In terms of aesthetic This is a rugged and raw Macbeth, which can clearly be seen from the cast that’s been picked. The likes of Paddy Considine and Sean Harris are actors that can convey the kind coarseness that Kurzel is clearly aiming for. The main players of Michael Fassbender and the wide eyed Marion Cotillard are also game. Capturing the desperation and guilt of the Macbeth couple as they grasp for power and disintegrate because of it. Fassbender seemed to have been made for such a role. After the execution of his gutless deed, we witness a dogged Macbeth lie next to the murdered King in a moment of anxiety and foreboding. It’s a slight moment, but one that exposes the inverted vulnerability that Fassbender could do in his sleep.

Through the sweat and dirt, however, there’s a lack of urgency through most of the piece. There’s much to try and take from Macbeth. From its operatic opening sequences to slow motion battle sections. The film’s score is one that howls and squeals like the Highland winds. Add to this the dramatic performances and it’s seems to be a relatively solid adaptation.

Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be anything to full grip on to. This Macbeth is a subdued and slippery beast. It almost feels as it is covered in the same claret that coats Macbeth’s treacherous hands. It gives us little else than a simple telling of the tale.

This is where the beauty of adaptation comes in. You can give us something else. This Macbeth is released at a time where many feel our leaders feel more disingenuous than ever before. Meanwhile, our media douse us with a type of paranoia that previous dictators would happily pay for. Yet, Kurzel and the three screenwriters only really muddy the aesthetic. This is an adaptation that may not wish to be tainted with anything that may date it within the era it was made. However, apart from hushed renditions of some of the bard’s most recognised soliloquys and Macbeth’s madness being observed as a type of PTSD, we’re given little complexity or definition.

The beauty of Shakespeare isn't just in the words (although Fassbender and Cotillard have an eloquent command of the dialogue) but in what else you can bring to the adaptation. The source is strong and always will be, but in the end Macbeth feels as airy and tenuous as the three witches who haunt Macbeth’s dreams and battlefields.