After the rising tension of 2011’s Snowtown, Justin Kurzel returns with a similarly bleak Macbeth. Starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as the murderous duo, Kurzel’s take on the Shakespearean bloodbath is a slow burn psychological thriller. Or it might be if we didn’t already know the ending…
Taking on one of the best-known plays even in Shakespeare’s canon (hands up if you studied it for GCSE English) is always difficult, but the problem with Kurzel’s version is that it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. Aside from an opening scene depicting the funeral of the Macbeths’ child and an ending that seems to be setting up a sequel, this latest Macbeth is rather murder-as-usual.
That being said, the film looks absolutely gorgeous. It has real visual flare; the lighting is to die for and the cinematography breathtaking. It also sounds gorgeous with Jed Kurzel’s swooping strings filling the immense Scottish landscape. In fact, the rather sedentary pacing really makes the most of the visual elements of the film. It’s just that the dialogue could really do with a kick up the backside.
The main issue is with the language; it never becomes natural. When watching brilliant Shakespeare the language is immediately relatable as it sounds convincingly like the characters talk that way all day, every day; it feels familiar. In Kurzerl’s Macbeth, everyone sounds like they’re speaking Shakespeare, and that’s never really fun for anyone. Fassbender (not always one for great accent work but here with a convincing Scottish lilt) is gruff and mumbling as the ambitious Thane, but the mumbling is occasionally inaudible and the delivery fairly flat.
There are outbursts of emotion but not enough to carry the idea of his descent into madness. He just seems to arrive there at the banquet scene. His physical presence is perfect for the role but that size and authority never makes it into his vocal performance. Cotillard does a better job with her delivery – her focus is so strong, even when she’s falling apart, and her gaze is absolutely captivating.
It feels like a rather hollow Macbeth – we don’t get under the surface of any of the characters and everything just seems to play out like we know it will. After the incredible ability of Snowtown to get under the skin, Kurzel seems to have missed an opportunity to make Macbeth the really disturbing consideration of madness, ambition, love, sex and bloodlust that it could be.
Disappointingly flat in dialogue, Kurzel has made a Macbeth that is a treat to look at but never really gets to grip with the fear and madness of his central couple.
Macbeth is out now in the UK