|'Kurzel's film consistently feels caught between an uncanny parallel world and a setting simultaneously bleak and grandiose that could only exist in mildly pretentious works of cinema'.|
When it comes to making a new film version of a Shakespeare play such as Macbeth, one of the Bard's most well-known tragedies which has already been made for the big screen countless times by such renowned filmmakers as Orson Welles and Roman Polanski, it's crucial that whatever approach is opted for brings something new to the table. And herein lies the fatal flaw in director Justin Kurzel's adaptation: aside from being a perfectly satisfactory, and occasionally beautifully shot, version of "the Scottish play", it doesn't do a great deal more.
Kurzel does scatter some potentially interesting elements within his version of the story. The motif of youth and children comes through again and again: the opening scene introduces Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) burying at least one child; the Witches' number is expanded from three to four through the addition of a young girl; and the enemy Macbeth and Banquo's (Paddy Considine) army face early on looks as though it's made up of unruly teenagers possibly not old enough to legally watch the film in which they feature. The problem is that, having made childhood such a prominent theme in his Macbeth, Kurzel does almost nothing with it. It lingers as a half-realised idea, plain to see but decidedly unclear in its aim.
Kurzel's version of Scotland also feels murky in its intended purpose. Seemingly formed from a mishmash of Celtic and Scandinavian heritage, the director's setting regularly looks striking and is at times reminiscent of the backdrop created in Polanski's Macbeth. But where the earlier film succeeded in making the story happen in a place you genuinely believed the characters lived and interacted, Kurzel's film consistently feels caught between an uncanny parallel world and a setting simultaneously bleak and grandiose that could only exist in mildly pretentious works of cinema. Whilst it regularly looks good, it also places an extra barrier in the way of you engaging with the story.
With a cast as talented as that at Kurzel's disposal, the feeling that the director could have achieved more than what he does becomes ever more lingering. You'll want to leave the film talking about "Fassbender's Macbeth" and "Cotillard's Lady Macbeth" for years to come; and yet, whilst both are undeniably talented actors, neither ever truly makes their respective character their own. Fassbender in particular has some of Shakespeare's most famous speeches at his disposal, but fails to create a truly memorable version of any of them.
The same can be said of the supporting cast, with Considine a solid if prosaic Banquo and David Thewlis uncharacteristically unconvincing as Duncan. The strongest and most memorable performance of the whole film arguably comes from Sean Harris as Macduff, injecting both vitality and vitriol into a character who can at times become something of a straightforward "good guy" to oppose the increasingly tyrannical Macbeth.
Macbeth could never be considered a bad Shakespearean adaptation in the same way as something like Julian Fellowes' intelligence-insulting rewrite of Romeo And Juliet, for example. The cinematography is regularly impressive, and even if many of the performances aren't particularly remarkable, they are at least solid for the most part. But, returning to the point made in the opening paragraph of this review, Kurzel's Macbeth simply doesn't do enough to warrant recommending it over more interesting and accomplished versions of the play that have had their position high up the pecking order of Shakespearean cinema carved out for some time.