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Macbeth [AFI FEST 2015]
The Weinstein Company // Unrated // December 4, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Afi]
Shakespeare's works continue to live on in various forms of media. Whether it's on television, in your nearest cinema, or somehow adapted into some form of literature, his tragedies will continue to leave their mark from one media text to another. Screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso have adapted the infamous Macbeth for director Justin Kurzel. Those who know the story and the overall tone will know exactly what they're getting into. Otherwise, this adaptation in particular may leave more than a few blanks that would require some filling in.
One day on the battlefield, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become the King of Scotland. Uncertain of how he should proceed, he initially displays signs of hesitation. His wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), motivates him to murder the king and take the throne for himself in order to obtain power and respect.
There are a few different directions that one could take Macbeth. There is a more traditional perspective and a more modern alternative. This could slightly change small details about the story, but it primarily relates to that of the flow of Shakespearean language. It's clear that the screenplay and the direction are a bit at odds with one another. Kurzel brings a more fresh and modern look at the story, while the screenwriters bring us more elements of the traditional story. This is a conflict that ultimately causes Macbeth to feel a bit chaotic. To reference the Shakespearean language, it can be incredibly difficult to hear portions of the dialogue, although it becomes easier to get into the rhythm of poorly-mixed dialogue and thick accents as the film continues to unfold.
Macbeth clearly plays towards an audience that has a firm understanding of the original story. If you haven't read it in a few years, it might be a smart idea to brush up on your knowledge before checking out this retelling of the story. There is little to no exposition provided regarding plot points and character arcs, requiring that the viewers pay close attention and know where the differences stand. This isn't a negative comment, but it's simply something to be aware of, otherwise, you just might find yourself confused regarding character motivations and subtle plot points. In fact, Macbeth may call for a repeat viewing in order to get everything out of the experience. However, the film isn't for everybody, as some may simply not have the patience to sit through some of the slower portions. However, those willing to refresh their memories on the story before watching and remaining patient will find some worthwhile rewards.
Kurzel's Macbeth is certainly the most aggressive adaptation out there. While it has subtle story elements, it doesn't shy away from the action sequences. Despite the occasional cut-away from violence, most of the action scenes are quite brutal. The film doesn't currently hold a rating from the MPAA, but it's practically guaranteed to be rated R. The grief of two parents who have lost their child continues to escalate through the violence depicted from Macbeth towards anybody who gets in his way to power. He deals with the anguish quite differently than Lady Macbeth, but both of them are willing to do some particularly sinister things for power. Nevertheless, this version of Macbeth is certainly a lot more in our face than previous adaptations, which will help with the pacing for those who have an issue with the Shakespearean flow of language.
With stars such as Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively, it's difficult not to set expectations high. Fortunately, they both entirely deliver upon their performances. Fassbender is absolutely exceptional in a role that we all knew he could execute to near-perfection. He brings an intimidating aggression to the film in the character's madness, while also delivering a sense of vulnerability that remains subtle, yet distinct. Meanwhile, Cotillard is an outstanding choice for Lady Macbeth. She delivers a performance on the same level as Fassbender, as she portrays the character's anguish in a way that is simply brilliant. Both actors have individual time with the camera, where they deliver long monologues, and both of them manage to take what could have been mundane portions and transformed them into something riveting.
When it comes to the visual style of this adaptation, Macbeth hits the nail right on the head. The cinematography is absolutely breath-taking. The color palette, camera work, and lighting are all entirely fitting for this tragic story. While slow-motion is generally seen as being a cheap gimmick, Kurzel utilizes it in a way that makes it feel fresh. By taking a long shot of a battle sequence, the audience is able to see a grandiose level of brutality within a single frame that perfectly captures the state of the scene. Much of the film looks like a painting, giving the picture texture and character. Even if you aren't entirely taken by Shakespearean storytelling, Kurzel's visual design will have you completely immersed.
Even when walking in with high expectations, Macbeth remains to be a solid retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy that doesn't often receive the cinematic treatment. It tells the story without providing too much exposition, specifically targeting audiences who already have a strong understanding of the original material. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are absolutely brilliant in their respective roles, regardless of whether they're depicting the characters' more aggressive or subtle elements. Director Justin Kurzel delivers upon an atmosphere that perfectly fits a modern telling. It's just a shame that there is such a clash between a modern and a traditional sense of storytelling that feels very prevalent throughout the course of the film. It needed to pick one direction and stick with it, rather than pick and choose elements from both. Macbeth is a reasonably compelling Shakespearean retelling. Recommended.
Macbeth will be playing at AFI FEST 2015 presented by Audi on November 6th and November 11th.