Directed by: Justin Kurzel.
Written by: Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso based on the play by William Shakespeare.
Starring: Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth), Sean Harris (Macduff), Paddy Considine (Banquo), David Thewlis (Duncan), Jack Reynor (Malcolm), Lochlann Harris (Fleance), Kayla Fallon (Young Witch), Lynn Kennedy (Middle Witch), Seylan Baxter (Older Witch), Amber Rissmann (Child Witch), Scot Greenan (Young Boy Soldier), David Hayman (Lennox), Elizabeth Debicki (Lady Macduff).
If a filmmaker is going to tackle William Shakespeare’s Macbeth at this point in time, they had better come up with a somewhat new, or different, way of approaching the material. After all, this is a version that has a rather good classical version directed and starring Orson Welles, a blood soaked version that embraces the meaningless of it all by Roman Polanski, and a samurai version by Akira Kurosawa (Throne of Blood). That’s three of the greatest filmmakers in history – and those are just the best known versions. What else can there be left to say about Macbeth.
Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth is not the best version of the play – it is dwarfed by those three previously mentioned, but yes, it does approach the material in at least a slightly different way. Like Polanski, Kurzel is drawn to the bloody aspects of Shakespeare’s play (not surprisingly, since his last film, Snowtown, was disturbing and violent in the extreme) – but in a different way. He opens the film, not with the witches, as we expect – but with a funeral (we assume of Macbeth’s child, who died), before flashing to the witches (he’s added one as well, for some reason) – and then immediately launches into a full on Braveheart like battle sequence, that goes on for quite some time. This battle is bloody and brutal, bathed in mist, as Macbeth leads Duncan’s army against the traitor Macdonald and his army – eventually winning. Kurzel doesn’t stop there, he stays on that battle field for quite some time – with Macbeth walking amongst the dead and dying – even him receiving his promotion on the battlefield with the bodies all around him. The man he fought for – David Thewlis’ Duncan, is far away from the battle and protected – as is his son Malcolm (Jack Reynor), who he names his successor. Those who fought and bled, don’t get to lead – it’s just those who are sent to fight and bleed (this is echoed at the end, where another brutally violent battle ensues, and poor tragic Macduff has little to show for his actions).
Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth – and he’s an excellent choice to do so, since we have seen him descend into madness a few times on screen by this point, and he always does so extremely well. His Macbeth gets there pretty quickly actually – part of this is that the film, at under two hours and with significant time dedicated to those bloody battles, truncates a lot of the play itself. It seems like Fassbender’s approach here is to play Macbeth as a soldier with PTSD. There is something flat and emotionless about him at times, and he has a hair trigger temper, and seems suicidal. Fassbender does a great job with the role. Even better is Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth – the woman who prods Macbeth into committing murder to become King (this time, literally during sex, showing us at least part of the hold she has over him). Cotillard doesn’t play Lady Macbeth as a she-bitch from hell like some have in the past – but rather quietly, and subtly – perhaps a touch too quietly at times, as her own descent into madness happens a little too quickly as well. Better than either Fassbender or Cotillard is actually Sean Harris – playing the saddest, angriest, most tragic version of Macduff that I can recall seeing on screen – he gets his vengeance, as always does, but it has never seemed more hollow. Those closing scenes, bathed is red, is like a scene out of hell.
Is there enough new here to justify yet another version of Macbeth? The answer is yes – it’s always great to see great actors tackle the great roles in history, and Fassbender, Cotillard, Harris and everyone else is in fine form. The film concentrating on the violence, and war, gives a different emphasis, than other films – even if it’s not a particularly insightful one. Still, the film works – even if it if it isn’t as good as some of the other version.