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August 28, 2016

Macbeth (2015)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Actors: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine

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Synopsis: Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), a fierce but initially loyal warrior in the Scottish army, is tempted to the kill the king after strange predictions by three witches….

Review: If further evidence was needed of Justin Kurzel’s credentials as one of the most promising filmmakers on the planet, then his Macbeth (Shakespeare adaptations are notoriously cinema-proof propositions) is another accomplished case in point.

To negate the ‘familiarity’ of the Shakespearean conventions, Kurzel has really gone to town – in a good way – on the visual elements to the story. Fashioning an aesthetic which is both highly stylised (the cinematography is sensualised through lots of slo-mo and steadicam zooms) and naturalistic (the mise en scène is designed to affect how a feudal land might look and feel), Kurzel crafts a rich feast of a film. Talking about feasts, Kurzel crafts some mesmeric set pieces – the seminal banquet scene is particularly atmospheric, and almost each staging post of the Macbeth story is imagined in an ingenious and visually distinctive way.

Amid a host of excellent touches, Kurzel’s only minor misstep – and it’s probably only an off-shoot of his naturalistic proclivity – is that the theatricality of Shakespeare’s masterful language and poetry gets diluted. Also, although it’s a colossal visual and emotional performance by Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, she understandably struggles to manage the cadence of Shakespeare’s verse which means some of her character’s key early monologues are not capitalised on as much as they might have been.

There are novel interpretive touches by Kurzel though. Opening on an ambiguous funeral scene (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s infant child?) is an interesting, sly attempt to hint at the emotional chasm which might make their descent into violent ambition that much more comprehensible (Kurzel also has the same child accompanying the phantom witches round to emphasise that subtext). Duncan’s death scene is also clever: having Macbeth actually lie calmly in wait after he slays the king, almost goading Malcolm to flee (and thus be implicated), creates a feeling that Macbeth becomes assertive in the immediate aftermath of the seminal murder rather than later in the piece when he warns Lady Macbeth to “be innocent of the knowledge”.

That’s now two films in a row (after his exemplary Snowtown) where Kurzel has managed to conjure an air of pure evil – you might even tag him the “new Polanski”, although that doesn’t really give Kurzel’s originality enough credit. All eyes will be peeled on what this talented director does next. (August 2016)

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