Macbeth full movie review - Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
The most recent of the many screen versions of the Scottish Play, this is a truly abysmal adaptation of one of Shakespeare's finest works. Justin Kurzel's direction is appalling.
He seems to be more interested in artistic gimmicks such as the pointless and distracting slow motion in the first battle scene and in showing blood and guts than in the raw emotion and psychology of the play. It is an exercise in flash over substance, which comes across as pretentious. It is as if he is trying to convince us that he is a great filmmaker. Well, it succeeded in convincing me of quite the opposite, I'm afraid. Not only that but the film looks cheap. At one point, I was worried that there was something wrong with the DVD as the camera work was so shoddy. Sadly, there wasn't. I could not help comparing the would-be affecting battle scenes to the powerful and gritty ones seen in Kenneth Branagh's version of "Henry V" and I could also not help finding them wanting. All I kept thinking was that it would have been considerably better if Branagh, my favourite living director, had been given the job. Rumour has it that he is considering his own version and I really hope that that's true.
The shots of Scottish scenery are nice but so what? I could easily just go back to Scotland (where I lived for a year) and see them in person without suffering through this. Kurzel's direction is utterly lacking in energy, style or flair and, if he understands the play, there's not much indication of it on screen. Although if you like fog, you're in luck. Presumably this was intended to make the film moody and atmospheric but it is merely another entry in its litany of failures. This is the 24th Shakespearean adaptation that I have watched since January 2015 so I am a bit of an aficionado of the Bard's work. I am afraid that this is the worst Shakespearean adaptation that I have ever seen. I was not enamoured of either Orson Welles' lacklustre 1948 version or Roman Polanski's creepy and off-putting 1971 version but I preferred both of them to this. Macbeth is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays but I have yet to see a screen version that does it justice. I'd sell my soul to be able see Laurence Olivier's unmade 1950s version which would have starred himself and his then wife Vivien Leigh. Richard Burton and Sean Connery's unmade versions would have probably been worthwhile as well. This version, however, is a masterclass in how not to make Shakespeare for the screen. I can't remember the last time that I was so utterly and bitterly disappointed by a film.
Shakespearean adaptations live or die on the strength of their cast and this one suffers from poor performances from otherwise good actors. The film stars Michael Fassbender in an atypically bad performance as the Thane of Glamis and later of Cawdor whose vaulting ambition propels him onto the throne of Scotland. Fassbender makes for an extremely uninvolving Macbeth and he often seems more bored than anything. He is completely unable to convey the character's inner conflict, self- doubt or lack of strength and is particularly weak during the crucial "Dagger of the mind" and "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquies. I would have much preferred to see his "X-Men" co-star James McAvoy in the role and not just because he is actually Scottish. Marion Cotillard is better but only marginally so since Lady Macbeth is nowhere near as compelling or even interesting a character in the film as she is in the play. The only other film in which I have seen her is "Midnight in Paris" and I thought that she was wonderful in that so I was shocked that she was mostly boring as one of Shakespeare's best characters.
The supporting cast includes Paddy Considine, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Maurice Roëves and Jack Reynor but only Hayman and Harris are particularly impressive or even memorable and then only in small doses. Seylan Baxter, Lynn Kennedy, Kayla Fallon and Amber Rissmann play the Witches but you would not know that there was anything the least bit supernatural about them in spite of the fact that was rather what Shakespeare was going for. Presumably at the (poor) direction of Kurzel, most of the actors mumble their lines rather than enunciate clearly. Another bad idea poorly executed. I will say this about Kurzel though: at least he's consistent.
Overall, this is a simply deplorable version of a fantastic play. If I were Shakespeare, I would want my name taken off it. After Duncan's murder, Lady Macbeth says what's done cannot be undone. Well, I wish that I could find a way to undo watching this travesty. There's an old saying in Hollywood: "You can make a bad film out of a good script but you can't make a good film out of a bad script." This may not be a Hollywood film but it is a textbook example of the first part of that aphorism. This will undoubtedly be one of my Bottom Five of 2016. At the moment, it is No. 2 after the Chinese film "Pingguo", which was unleashed on the unsuspecting English speaking world as "Lost in Beijing". Hopefully, unlike Duncan and later the title character himself, the film "Macbeth" will not be usurped.