Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!
Every single frame in Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth plays bloody and spectacular homage to the ghosts of William Shakespeare’s most morbid of plays. Just as I had hoped, the film is a viscerally charged visual onslaught that is every bit as intense, hypnotic and grisly as the previews promised it to be.
Sure we’ve seen many different interpretations and adaptations of Shakespeare’s tragic masterpiece of ambition, deception, murder and evil, but nothing as ferociously wicked as this. Australian director Kurzel (whose debut feature Snowtown made him the ideal choice for this project) has made a harrowing feature that is incredibly difficult viewing, therefore making it even more impossible to recommend to general audiences.
What immediately stands out, is how unafraid these filmmakers were of taking the knife to the classic tale and making it their own, while still remaining respectful and reverent to the play’s immortal legacy. Screenwriters Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie have certainly embellished on some of the Bard’s verses, inventing new scenes and adding backstories (deceased children) that weren’t originally there. The script has also been readjusted to fit a conventional three-act structure.
Equally as precarious, is Kurzel’s choice of accent, which certainly emphasises the ‘Scottish‘ part of the Scottish play. While this may prove difficult for some to understand, others will applaud the effort to produce a raw and rich authenticity that the play’s famed lines demand of their performers.
With a truly superb supporting cast that includes Paddy Considine, Sean Harris and David Thewlis, the film soars into Awards discussions thanks to the unflinching and searing performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, who have confirmed to me their position as the two finest actors working today.
Kurzel’s camera, with its mixture of wide slow-motion shots and claustrophobic close ups, creates the perfect platform for both leads to demonstrate their unequalled acting range and pedigree. Cotillard’s static long take, as she delivers the famed Lady Macbeth mental breakdown scene, is as expertly restrained as it is overwrought with heartbroken ferocity. Not to be outdone, Fassbender delivers believable menace and madness, as he brings Macbeth’s torturous soliloquies to life in ways no other actor could do.
Even when not employing the Bard’s iambic pentameter, each performer exudes a myriad of emotional textures and touches, that should be examined at length by acting classes studying realism and naturalism across the globe.
Aided by Adam Arkapaw’s striking and scintillating cinematography and Jed Kurzel’s droning and haunting score, Macbeth is as intoxicating a cinematic experience as one could ask for. The film is a brooding and unrelenting dissection of a man’s downward spiral towards self annihilation. Macbeth is catered only to those who can stomach the thought of watching a tyrant slowly twisting and severing off his humanity until all who surround him have vanquished in the colourless and bloodied Scottish marshes.