Director Justin Kurzel’s 2015 screen adaptation of Macbeth is a luscious piece of cinematic grit. It’s a down-and-dirty version of Shakespeare’s tragedy but it’s a hollow film that unfortunately has had it’s heart ripped out through its translation. The elements are there for a film to rival and even surpass Roman Polanski’s seminal 1971 effort so it’s infuriating that it falls short.
When you have Michael Fassbender starring as the fallen Scottish King then you’ve already got an ace-in-the-hole but Kurzel is more interested in making this a visual slice of cinema rather than a performance piece and because of this, it feels like the actors come a close second to the (hugely impressive) imagery. The actors play their parts with gravelly, hushed tones and much of the Bard’s dialogue is lost in the milieu. The performances of course aren’t bad but they’re just not energetic enough. You could argue about the difference between the stage versus cinema but there’s just something missing in this adaptation and that might just be the intimacy between the actors and the text.
Fassbender makes for a great Macbeth – his celtic charm showing the man who he was and his skill as an actor showing what he becomes. He’s a perfect fit in so many ways but this isn’t one of his best performances. I also think it would have been much better if Marion Cotillard had played the role of Lady Macbeth in her native French accent. That would have added additional mystic to the character and given her an exotic, but grounded other worldly quality.
The film scores high on a technical level and Kurzel manages to get across the brutality and darkness of Shakespeare’s play – he manages to balance period realism with the supernatural elements that run through the tale. The grey and misty locations give this adaptation a stark and empty quality and Kurzel and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw manage to present the visuals as the perfect accompaniment to the story’s murky themes.
Macbeth is far from bad, in fact it’s actually rather good but it’s frustrating to watch a film, that could have been a masterpiece, failing to reach such lofty heights. In many ways Justin Kurzel’s film is much like its protagonist: noble and well intentioned but ultimately lacking in the greatness to which it was destined.