Young Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth has a fascinating visual style to it. The opening battle sequence is this beautiful shade of bluish grey and uses slow motion oddly but effectively to capture the fatal blows. Spread across the slow-motion bluish grey landscape is a bunch of dirt and blood that capture the cold and removed brutality of war. Intercut are unnerving green filtered shots of the three witches and what is I’m assuming their demon child that make for some of the most disturbing images I’ve seen this year. Then, the drama starts and awkwardly staged line readings by brilliant but restrained actors cannot compete with the flashy battle sequences. While I’m all for making the work of Bard more visually striking for the modern era, it should never be at the cost of the material. Spectacle over substance is always a crime, but when that substance is one of the most poignant tragedies ever written, it’s a goddamn felony.
Kurzel trims down the story to a brisk one hour and fifty minutes. He spends more time with the actual battle sequences than character development. When a major character dies, it’s supposed to be this huge moment. Unfortunately, we can’t feel any sympathy for the character because the film doesn’t establish this person as anyone except guy who stands behind Macbeth in one scene. A lot of the major monologues and scenes, besides being awkwardly staged, are way too played down and understated. In a story not using iambic pentameter this would acceptable, but with it it’s utterly incomprehensible. Those unfamiliar with the the source material, will be completely lost. I read Macbeth like two times in middle school, so I more or less knew what was happening. Kurzel reduces the witches (the most fascinating part of the play) to bit players and completely cuts the scene in which Macbeth seeks them out. Kurzel’s film also takes a pivotal assassination scene that was only implied in the play and trades in the emotional weight of it for Game of Thrones-level violence.
While the sharp visual style and slight disregard for the source material might irritate some viewers, the one inarguably great aspect about the film is the acting. Michael Fassbender is as excellent as he always is as our title character, but the real standout is Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. Compelling from beginning to end, Cotillard breathes new life into a character that has been done to death. Both of their performances are so good it makes you wish you could see them in a better interpretation of the play. This one has a beautiful package, but unfortunately, it’s mostly empty. Grade: C+