It’s interesting how your opinions can sometimes switch at the snap of a finger with seemingly little reason behind it. When I first became aware of Justin Kurzel’s upcoming adaptation of Macbeth, I was apathetic. I watched the trailer and somehow found it to appear to be a complete bore, despite featuring such appealing names as Fassbender, Cotillard and Harris in its mains cast. I didn’t really have any good reason for it, nevertheless I dismissed the film immediately and gave no second thoughts to it for several months. Then oddly, one day I changed my mind. Out of nowhere. As if with a surge of passion, one day I was simply consumed by the unstoppable urge to watch this latest foray in adapting Macbeth to the big screen. The genesis for this was undoubtedly my sudden rekindled interest in the works of Shakespeare that I experienced in the past summer and autumn, when I watched the Hollow Crown miniseries as well as Ian McKellen’s modernized take on Richard III. And what experience it was.
I have not yet read Macbeth, much to my shame, but I have by now seen more than a few adaptations of it throughout the years, and I must say this is probably my favorite one to date. For one thing I can’t get over how gorgeous the cinematography looked on the big screen. There’s a brilliant use of color and lighting throughout the film, so many scenes look absolutely stunning. To say it’s a very stylish looking film is an understatement. It really paid off shooting the film in actual locations in England and Scotland. The hard, barren, vast landscapes of Scotland magnificently add to the haunting, dark majestic atmosphere that courses through Shakespeare’s classic play. I think my favorite ‘orgasm for the eyes’ moment would have to be the climax at the very end of the film, when Macbeth is walking to confront the army that has rallied to oppose his tyrannical and bloody rule, that features an intense one-on-one sword match against Macduff amidst the dark smoke, ash filled air and the ravishingly red glare resulting from the blazing Birnam Wood forest that Macduff’s forces had set on fire, thus fulfilling the prophecy that was foretold to mark the time of Macbeth’s downfall.
Another thing worth praising is the beautifully shot battle scenes. I especially enjoyed the battle featured at the beginning of the story when Macbeth is still fighting for King Duncan in the civil war, and everything is shown in slow motion, a clever way to capture the havoc and carnage of battle while also allowing you to pace yourself and get a proper sense of the large scale confrontation between the opposing sides in the conflict. I bet the slow motion approach was a very cost efficient way to shoot it. Plus it really works beautifully to paint the hideous, violent portrait of warfare and the savagery that it entailed, as well as subtly build the eerie, haunting foundation to Macbeth’s upcoming encounter with the witches who deliver him the fatal prophecy that leads Macbeth down the road to his bloody rise to power and the subsequent paranoia and violent ruin.
I think I need to rave a little bit about the cast next. Michael Fassbender’s performance, to me at least, was great. He was amazing as Macbeth. While I really enjoyed Toshiro Mifune as an Asian version of Macbeth in Kurosawa’s classic film Throne of Blood, that was nothing compared to this spiritually shriveled, raving mad rendition of the character that Fassbender’s version offers, a man constantly haunted by his bloody hands that he seems to cannot ever get properly cleansed. You really get the perfect sense of how conflicted and utterly ridden by guilt he is before and after he kills his King, especially his guilt feels very tangible when he is confronted by the ghost of Banquo in the banquet hall during the celebration, it’s perhaps the first time I really felt the madness feel real when it was meant to descend on Macbeth in the story. Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth was also interesting. I don’t think the character of Lady Macbeth in any adaptation I’ve seen so far has really popped out to me like the Cotillard version did. Usually she tends to just feel like she’s merely there as the plot device to talk Macbeth into committing regicide, but here she felt like she had some proper agency and lust for power of her own accord. That said, her death was a bit hastily done, in my opinion. I liked the small build up it did get, but the execution was a bit lacking nevertheless. And before I forget, Sean Harris as Macduff was pretty damn good as well. I’ve always found Harris to be fascinating as an actor because he’s a bit of an enigma to me when it comes to his acting. In everything I’ve seen him, there’s this inherent detachment to his presence, almost like an aura of displacement, he has a weird distant and alien like coldness to his delivery, as if he isn’t in the same room with everybody else. But instead of a what by all appearances should be an entirely tone deaf performance with no life to it, his delivery has this fascinating otherworldly vibe to it and that’s what makes him always so intriguing to watch.
After watching this film my interest in the works of Shakespeare has only soared higher. It’s almost funny how intimidated I was of his works until the past year, and now I’m practically devouring adaptations left and right in all forms, seeking recorded live performances, looking up film adaptations as well as piling up the plays to my to-be-read pile with small, intense furor. I suppose that’s just the power of the longevity and appeal of Shakespeare for you. Once you get bitten, there is no end in sight, you simply get consumed by the fire that has been lit inside you.