All hail Macbeth who shall be king hereafter . . .
This brutal, minimalistic take on Macbeth has been quite controversial among my Shakespeare loving friends, so I’ll just get this out of the way: I loved every minute of it. The movie does more than strip the text; it does more than decimate it. I haven’t checked to see, but it absolutely cuts the text to shreds in order to create a minimal, often wordless film. I usually hate this, but it works here as it fits with the overall aesthetic of the movie. Kurzel sets out to strip the story down to its brutal essentials and restore the play to a visceral experience. His direction is flawless, creating images that are eerie, creepy, stark and beautiful. He knows exactly how to handle his colors and his lighting to create painterly visuals. And he, unlike a lot of people who try to perform Macbeth, remembers that it’s a horror story; he handles the witches here better than I’ve ever seen before, creating genuinely unsettling, chill inducing sequences. And the violence is brutal and graphic. Controversy also arises from the liberties Kurzel takes with the original text of the play. One notes especially the “Is this a dagger I see” scene, which Kurzel takes in a genuinely jaw-droppingly different direction than . . . well, than the text of the play can even support. But it works. The cast is phenomenal, of course. Fassbender and Cotillard are both either career best or close to it, playing close to the chest in most instances, delivering some of the most histrionic speeches with quiet reservation or despair (I’ve never seen a more brilliant delivery of “Lay on, Macduff,” for instance, and that’s maybe the moment that the most actors play incredibly over the top; Fassbender finds an absolute despair in his quietness). It falls to Sean Harris, in a definitely career best turn, to play to the rafters as an increasingly unhinged Macduff; he’s absolutely brilliant. Paddy Considine is unrecognizeable as a reserved Banquo; his ghostly appearance at the banquet is nothing short of terrifying. It’s nice to see Elizabeth Debicki and David Thewlis in small roles; neither has enough time to do much, but they’re both very good. Oh, and a word for the score, which is a huge part of why the film creates the unsettling atmosphere it does. At the end of the day, Kurzel’s film annoys some Shakespearean purists because Kurzel is brave enough to make genuinely bold choices. But those daring choices are exactly the reasons this version of Macbeth works as well as any I’ve seen. Yes, I consider it, though very different, just as good in its own way as Kurosawa’s brilliant Throne of Blood. Kurzel’s created nothing short, in other words, of a masterpiece, as Shakespearean a film as I’ve ever seen. 4 stars.
tl;dr – visually striking, highly stylized, brilliantly acted Macbeth is nasty, grim and brutal; it’s a bracing, invigorating, visceral take on the old text that’s a strong contender for best Shakespeare film yet. 4 stars.