It hardly needed to be confirmed, but Australian director Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth reestablishes both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard as two of Western cinema’s most powerful, talented actors. Combined, they form a mighty duo – here as the Lady and Lord of sin and death. Kurzel’s adaptation opens with the death of the Macbeth’s child. Beginning with this vulnerability and the metaphorical death of innocence, Kurzel introduces his protagonists through the eyes of empathy. What follows is the decent into madness experienced by both man and wife following their murderous actions on their journey to the throne of Scotland. Every shot is riveting, every scene rich with texture and blustery from the ripe Scottish air. Layering is a clear component in Macbeth – creating the illusion of theatre wings and walls sliding in and out of view. Time is both sped up and slowed down to give the illusion of mental chaos and disorder. Technically brilliant and elegantly shot, Macbeth is an operatic triumph. There’s as much theatre here as there is cinema. This is a movie with the heart of a lion. When Macbeth, met by three witches, hears a prophecy that he shall be King he is instantly poisoned by the idea. Once his wish is granted the poison begins to spread to his mind. Whether harrowed by guilt or driven mad with paranoia, Macbeth is a king growing more blood-thirsty, vengeful and mad by the day. Easily divided into two halves, Macbeth focuses firstly on the ascension to the throne before the second act documents his rapid unraveling and eventual downfall.
Fassbender gives possibly his most ferocious performance to date, continuing to demonstrate his gruff fragility and complex portrayals of muddled masculinity. His Macbeth is a demon and a tyrant – solitude is his only companion once Lady Macbeth begins to fear him. Cotillard tells a thousand stories with a mere stare or facial movement. It’s delightful to see her not only bring her usual sensitivity but a new manipulative nature that suits her well. One prominent scene allows her to work the audience as the camera remains stationery upon her face whilst she delivers a monologue with a purity Shakespeare himself would have adored. In an unexpected decision, she is not the evil villain we expect – she’s given a slight backseat and instead the fury and horror falls mainly upon Macbeth; this is not a complete disappointment but certainly an unexpected surprise. She is less terrifying than I’d have liked. Paddy Considine proves less is more with his intense stares and understated nature. Sean Harris is given more screentime than usual – finally given the time he deserves to plot and stew before us and David Thewlis fits in nicely, as always. Adapting Shakespeare allows one to pick and choose key themes they wish to bring to the forefront; Macbeth focuses on fatherhood, the psychological damage of war and the male ego – the first provoking emotion from the viewer. Scotland is the real star here; winds howl and mud sticks to everything in a movie that drags you from your seat onto a stage alongside the actors and characters alike. Macbeth with its layering, deep portrayals of fatherhood and exceptional cinematography is a wonderful introduction to this year’s award season. All hail Macbeth.
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