January 14, 2016
I know the basic story of William Shakespeare's classic tragic play "Macbeth." Honestly though, I only knew this from a simplified comic book version I read when I was much younger. I have never seen a live theater performance nor any of the previous films made (by Orson Welles, Roman Polanski or Akira Kurosawa) about this tale. I was pleasantly surprised to see this new film version come out in theaters. I made sure to catch it and finally see what this long-renowned play was all about.
Macbeth was a Scottish nobleman who fought for King Duncan. After winning a bloody battle, Macbeth and his compatriot Banquo encounter three mysterious ladies (with a little girl and a baby) who tell their futures. Macbeth will become King of Scotland, while Banquo will become the father of kings. When his wife Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecy, she exhorts her husband to kill Duncan in order to fulfill it. With this deed done though, Macbeth's very sanity unravels with his greed and guilt.
Combined with the soliloquies in archaic Shakespearean English, the dirgelike musical score, and the very slow pace of storytelling, this was not a very easy film to watch. This is especially true if you had no idea whatsoever what the story was all about. I appreciated that we were mercifully provided with subtitles to help understand the mumbled words. However truth to tell, it was not easy to keep awake during the plodding first act.
The cinematography was very somber as well with a generally grey and ashen palette, with only occasional bursts of light and color. I'm not sure if the cinema I watched this film in had a very dim projector, but several scenes were so difficult to see, some of them were very important parts of the story. However, in the final act, the angry Macduff, vengeful for Macbeth's crime against his family, burned the woods around the castle. This gave the whole climactic fight scene between the two a fiery backdrop -- very nicely done.
Michael Fassbender did creditably in the lead role of Macbeth, especially during his scenes of tyrannical savagery and madness. He was truly terrifying in those tense moments -- a very convincing and powerful portrayal. He also shone in a sad, confused yet tender final scene with his wife.
Marion Cotillard also did very well as Lady Macbeth, although her attack on this role was understated and quieter than I would have expected the way I thought I knew the character. An odd scene was a climactic scene when Lady Macbeth was anxiously trying to wash off an imagined bloodstain from her hand. She was mouthing the classic lines, but she was not literally washing her hands nor was there even any water around. Anyhow, Cotillard killed that heart-wrenching scene. Her eyes are so deeply expressive.
Sean Harris (as Macduff) and Paddy Considine (as Banquo) also gave haunting performances in their key supporting roles. The ubiquitous David Thewlis appears briefly as King Duncan. Child actor Lochlan Harris had a memorable scene when his character, Banquo's son Fleance, witnesses a heinous crime. Elizabeth Debicki managed to grab attention in her very short scenes as Lady Macduff.
As told by young Australian director Justin Kurzel, this version of "Macbeth" never let up with its heady voice and timbre of unrelenting gloom. The effective acting of the cast might be prime, yes, however, the whole dreary and murky packaging of this film was simply too funereal and overbearing. I will have to check out previous "Macbeth" films made for proper comparisons about the treatment and storytelling. 6/10.