It might initially come as a shock that director Justin Kurzel would move from his debut film The Snowtown Murders (2011) onto Macbeth, the iconic story originally penned by Shakespeare. Upon seeing Kurzel’s film, however, it makes sense. Not only is it visually striking and sensibly filmed, but it’s also incredibly violent (something Snowtown was certainly regarded for being). Because Macbeth has been cinematically adapted many times, it was a weighty project for Kurzel to take on. Even more than that, it required him to say something new. While Kurzel might be shining a new light with his rendition, he might be losing some of the more substantial elements that are present in Shakespeare’s play.
Macbeth is unquestionably an evocative film. Within the first ten minutes of the film, an incredible mood is set. It’s eerie in tone, expansive in setting, and stunning in its subdued color palate. The sound design complements these qualities with its persuasive manner. The billowing winds and the clanking metal of swords place you directly in line with the characters. It’s presumably exactly where Kurzel wants us—especially for the first battle sequence. We barely have any idea as to what’s happening, yet we’re being thrown in quite claustrophobically to witness an entire fight sequence. From this point on, however, it is a struggle to stay fully immersed alongside Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Style seems to outweigh the plot, which becomes stretched so thin you might begin to question how long the film has been going on for. Indeed, this is the biggest issue with Macbeth. With a plot so dense and thoroughly mapped out, it’s surprising how sparse it is. This wouldn’t necessarily be a negative thing, but there seems to be an imbalance and lack of substance. For extreme Macbeth lovers I imagine this film has the potential to shine greatly. It is definitely not a film for someone mildly interested, or at all unfamiliar with the story.
Michael Fassbender is perfectly cast as the tyrannical and increasingly insane leader, though that doesn’t come as a surprise. Marion Cotillard is a fair Lady Macbeth, though her performance was surprisingly underwhelming. This is not Cotillard’s fault, but rather the possible misdirection from Kurzel. His eye is clearly exceptional, however with Macbeth, he might have bitten off more than he could chew. That is not to say that Macbeth has no merits. In fact, it’s an impressive new view on the Scottish play. The cinematography is gorgeous, the sound is haunting, and many positive additions were made (most notably Duncan’s son being present for his father’s death). Perhaps this is why it feels so unfulfilling at the end. When there is so much potential, it becomes harder to reconcile with a film’s lingering disappointment.
Macbeth opens in Philly area theaters today.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.