Justin Kurzel’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a visual, visceral force. This is a dynamic, mighty Macbeth, a film that deftly juxtaposes terror with tranquillity.
Violence, war and murder play out on screen, yet Scotland’s rolling, majestic crags, valleys, and mountains remain unmoved. Through this striking backdrop, Kurzel accentuates the contrast between the transience of human life – which changes, deviates, inwardly implodes – with the eternity of the natural word, synonymous with the divine and ethereal.
These visuals are so stunning that, in another film, they would threaten to steal all the thunder. Not so here: Macbeth is a movie buoyed by a tour-de-force, a career-defining performance from Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Scottish king. Fassbender is devastating throughout: from the first shot of Macbeth’s heartbreak as he buries his dead child, to his war-torn, ravaged face on the battlefield, to his transformation into a wrathful, regretful murderer.
As Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most iconic and most difficult roles, Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard is Fassbender’s more than worthy co-star. Even more ambitious, malevolent and scheming than her husband, it is Lady Macbeth’s encouragement that drives Macbeth forward into the darkness. Cotillard is magnificent here, simultaneously calculating and vulnerable, plagued both by heartbreak and unstoppable ambition. Her expressive face conveys a multitude of mixed feelings and her inevitable death feels a true tragedy.
The film is a fast-paced, evocative concoction of drama, emotion and visual potency that will appeal to Shakespeare buffs and newbies alike. The only criticism that could be levied at this Macbeth is the authentic combination of Scottish accents and Shakespearean language occasionally makes the dialogue hard to follow. Fortunately, the standout visuals and impressive acting ensure meaning is always conveyed. Jed Kurzel’s score also impressively communicates meaning and deserves plaudits – it is intoxicatingly effective.
The cinematography and classic themes of death, romance, ambition and tragedy give Macbeth a truly epic feel. Kurzel is aware that a true epic contains moments of tranquillity. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes are wordless and silent; as when a single tear runs down Macbeth’s face, or the expressions of pure terror as a family come face-to-face with death. Kurzel’s Macbeth remains loyal to Shakespeare’s original vision: any deviations and additions are considered and worthy.
The film is rounded out by a noteworthy supporting cast. The usurped, doomed King of Scotland is played with regal power by David Thewlis. Meanwhile, as Macbeth’s avenger Macduff, Sean Harris conveys loss, anger and heartbreak with poignancy and veracity. Jack Reynor (A Royal Night Out, Transformers: Age of Extinction) plays King Duncan’s son, Malcolm, the rightful heir to the Scottish throne, establishing himself as a rising star to watch.
Simultaneously faithful to Shakespeare’s original and the spirit of the Scottish play, Macbeth is one of the most cinematically striking movies of the year. As the credits roll amidst shots of the Scottish hills, you’ll find yourself catching your breath and desperate to watch this movie again.
Image: The Independent