Writers have always toyed with the idea of destiny and prophecy, taking a page from their ancient Greek writing predecessors. Macbeth is very much like the story of Oedipus, in which there is a self-fulfilling prophecy involved. Of course, Macbeth (played in this incarnation by Michael Fassbender) is much more ruthless in that, after finding out about a prophecy from a trio of witches (Lynn Kennedy, Seylan Baxter, Amber Rissmann) of one day becoming king of Scotland, he, with the help of his equally sinister wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), intentionally takes matters into his own hands to make it a reality. After all, who wants to be a Thane of Scotland, when you can be king?
There are a lot of compelling aspects to Macbeth, essentially serving as one of the ultimate rise-and-fall-from-power stories. And with superb actors in the lead and supporting roles, how can Macbeth be anything but a masterpiece? Well, director Justin Kurzel’s (The Snowtown Murders) version of Macbeth proves that a classic can go wrong and that perhaps a direct attempt at translating the 17th century literature may not always work the same way onscreen.
Visually, Macbeth looks stunning. This is thanks to director of photography, Adam Arkapaw (True Detective), whose contrast between the dank atmosphere and highlighting the blood-colored accents throughout are beautifully done. The look of the film aside, Kurzel and untested writers Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and writing veteran Todd Louiso (High Fidelity, Jerry Maguire) seem very intent on ripping off Braveheart. What with the speeches, war paint, and the setting of Scotland all callback the Mel Gibson film, but what Macbeth ultimately lacks is any heart. There is nothing that sets it apart from being any other action/war film except for its title. A lot of the most important parts from its source material are completely neglected and, if you’re one to use SparkNotes for all things Shakespeare, then the language will certainly be difficult to digest.
There isn’t a question that Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard give great performances, as they always do well, but the script doesn’t help them completely flesh out their characters and neglects to give any introspection and as viewers, you’ll feel cutoff from feeling anything for what is going on. And if you’d just like to watch them give each other hateful glares in heated arguments before passionately kissing, then wait for someone to cut something together on YouTube.
Shakespeare’s work is, without a doubt, difficult to bring to the screen, but in the case of Macbeth, the writers and director don’t try to do anything remotely creative or unique in terms of twisting it to fit modern viewership. The monologues are long, the film slow and there’s definitely a feeling of detachment from the characters and the overall story. The film doesn’t try very hard to succeed on its own merits, and is instead held up by the name Macbeth rather than by a well-told story of said character. An uninteresting and slow-moving film, there isn’t anything remotely compelling about this well-known tale of power and greed.