DVD Review - Macbeth (2015)

The so-called Scottish play by William Shakespeare has been done on stage countless times. Several films have been made and one wonders what new can be said or done. The answer according to director Justin Kurzel is Zack Snyder-style, action scenes, as well as large, foggy or smokey vistas, along with the removal of all relatability to the titular character.

Michael Fassbender stars as Macbeth, and in many ways was the perfect choice. Fassbender was probably the best actor to come out of Snyder's 300, a film that exemplified or over-exemplified the slow-motion action, accentuating every bloody and gory slice and stab of whatever sword or knife was at hand. That same exemplification is on display here, making a play from Shakespeare more about the action than about what Shakespeare is best known, which is the language, the poetic monologues and dialogues.

That almost wouldn't bother me, if writers Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie and Todd Louiso had not felt the need to be faithful to Shakespeare's text. They could have freed themselves, if they interpreted the lines of dialogue to more modern sensibilities, much in the way Kurzel does the action. A lot of the text is ditched, obviously cut for time, so they didn't feel so slavish to the material.

It won the Spotlight Award from the American Society of Cinematographers and understandably so. Kurzel shot this film partially at the Isle of Skye in Scotland. The sweeping landscapes are gorgeous. The production design is at times jaw-dropping, along with the make-up and costumes, but, even with all of that, I still did not want to look at these images. The reason is due to the writing.

The basic story is about a man who is visited by witches who put the idea into his head that he can be king. His wife encourages him too, which drives him to murder the actual king. His wife even helps plan it. He becomes king, but then, the story becomes about the man trying to hold onto power. The witches give him another prophecy, which he misinterprets and leads to vengeance being sought against him.

A lot of the scenes from the play that don't involve Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, played by Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose and The Dark Knight Rises), have been dropped. This lessens the character who seeks the vengeance at the end. It also lessens the final fight, a fight not as impactful as the final fight in The Revenant.

A lot of the supernatural aspects are toned down. Yes, the witches appear as well as the various apparitions, but they might as well be in Macbeth's head, figments of his imagination. What's also toned down is Macbeth's guilt. It seemed in the play that Macbeth had more of a moral struggle with what he's done. That is lost here. Fassbender feels like he's reveling in the bloodshed, even reveling in cold-blooded murder.

It makes it virtually impossible to identify with Macbeth, certainly impossible to empathize. Fassbender is a good actor, but even he can't make this dreary and violent, humorless film enjoyable or thrilling at all.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for strong violence and brief sexuality.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.


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