After a brutal battle, Macbeth gets prodded to aim higher.
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Review by Jon Kissel
However, watching Macbeth in the wake of Tragedy of Macbeth is a letdown. The aforementioned Act I elongations are Kurzel’s single innovation, and while they’re potent ones, he gets topped by Joel Coen at every other turn. The Weird Sisters are mere Celtic witches who lack much of an otherworldly quality. The supporting cast outside of Fassbender and Cotillard are single-note grim, including actors I often appreciate like Sean Harris as Macduff and Elizabeth Debicki as Lady Macduff. Speaking of the Macduffs, Kurzel lingers a tortuous amount of time on their small children, tied to stakes and burned alive in the presence of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, another embellishment for this adaptation. This draws a short line between seeing (and smelling and hearing) something as horrific as this and Lady Macbeth’s subsequent breakdown, but it’s a bloody and bold exclamation point that has zero subtlety. The look of the film, as shot by Adam Arkapaw, is at its best when wreathed in fiery oranges, but the rest is gray and cold, a choice that matches the tone but provides little to grab onto or propel the viewer.
As good as it is to be in any movie, no matter how bleak, with feral Fassbender and witchy Cotillard, both of whom have slowed down their hitmaking pace in subsequent years, Macbeth runs out of steam after the underlining of its first act. Committing to the depressive and hellish angle is a choice that improves my opinion of Tragedy of Macbeth, as that tells the same story but with none of the dreariness or flatness. It even finds time for humor, which, in Kurzel’s imagining, won’t be arriving in the Scottish highlands for another century or two. The major addition, making Macbeth into a noble commander who cares deeply about his men and feels their deaths, does reorient his motivations and turn him into a kind of Rambo-esque man-on-the-field resentful of the generals far away, but there’s only so much reinvention that can be done with a 500 year old play. This is a strong adaptation of timeless source material, but it lacks the sustained vision to make it one of the greats. B