Justin Kurzel's Macbeth is Shakespearian tragedy as macabre action movie. Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth in scowling and mercurial fashion, muttering his soliloquies in stream-of-consciousness fashion. We are aware from the outset that he is a warrior traumatised both by the violence he has experienced and by extreme grief.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) are seen early on placing stones on the eyes of a dead child. Kurzel uses slow motion to give the battle scenes a nightmarish feel. As he lights the film in ever more crepuscular fashion, the director seem to be taking literally the line about night “being almost at odds with morning, which is which”. There is next to no humour beyond the scene in which Macbeth and his wife, preparing the murder of King Duncan (David Thewlis), have sex while talking about “screwing” their courage to the sticking point.
Kurzel uses continual fire-lit close-ups as he encourages Fassbender and Cotillard to play their characters in an introspective and very intense way. This is a film about murder, guilt and self-loathing that turns out to be even bleaker than the Roman Polanski version. It is effective in its own dour way and some of the set-pieces are magnificent but, watching it, you feel as if you are being pummelled. Scant attention is paid to the beauty of the verse. This is a film so steeped in blood and darkness that it becomes increasingly oppressive to watch.
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