Macbeth is a cinematic psychedelic; hypnotic, jarring and reaches through your eyes to clutch your brain stem and rattle it around. The opening battle is a gauntlet to the audience, this is not a static theatre with players adhering to physical space. Kurzel dives you head long into a battle that’s like watching Braveheart, directed by Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs) while taking LSD. The anticipation of bodies about collide ferociously and steel frothing to grate flesh and bone the camera slows down to that extreme slow motion. The blows and collisions become balletic and precise at glacial speeds. Scotland is at war.
Suddenly you’re in the fray, bludgeoning, slicing and biting flesh from the enemy to break their will, until in the haze of carnage, a group of witches, who in a way are seeing the machinations of this feudal war through this microsecond perspective, attract Macbeth’s (Michael Fassbender) attention. Once they do Macbeth and his right hand man Banquo (Paddy Considine) are lured through the battle, their snake-like prophecy hissing from their lips, leading them to vanquish their foe and to bear witness to their words. As they flee into the myst and Macbeth and Banquo test their very existence they predict a kingship for Macbeth and Banquo fathering a line of kings. Haunted and poisoned by the words, he infects his bride Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) with a drastic status change and begins a path of ascension and madness.
Fassbender’s Macbeth seems the most sane in the insanity of battle. When he’s forced to be cordial, to pose as a man of decency, you start to feel like something’s wrong. In the interactions with Lady Macbeth he feels helpless; man blindsided by natural desire. Fassbender’s Macbeth becomes increasingly hypnotic the more volatile and unhinged he becomes. Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth is outwardly regal and pious, but is enamoured by the prophecy and quickly devises the plan to see it fulfilled. Cotillard applies a stillness in the public setting, modesty by staying indoors, a somewhat quiet manipulation with her two blue oceans that you get lost in for eyes and yet in behind the doors of the church, an God’s alter she…wait how do I say this…can you say ‘honey-dicks’ as a verb in a review about a filmic adaption of a Shakespeare play? Well I guess I just did.
There are jarring patches of the film and it’s almost hard to say whether they’re intended or don’t quite pack the punch of the nightmarish hallucinations. There’s a scene set in an opulent hall, where the lords and ladies of Scotland are gathering around in what should be a regal and privileged setting, dining with their monarchy. Instead, despite the many efforts of Lady Macbeth to control proceedings, Macbeth’s private paranoia and schizophrenia gets centre stage so-to-speak. You’re held, like the quivering subjugated, into the tense insecurity. As his mutterings about visions, failed plots, half-cocked demands to stay as MacDuff (Sean Harris) and his Lady (Elizabeth Debicki) can no longer stomach the humiliating scene. The reverberations of every part of what should be an internal monologue ricochet off the walls stunning the silent throng. It’s weird, it makes you self aware; and after time spent invading your mind you become aware that you’re an observer. Despite the effort of Kurzel and screenwriters Jacob Kosloff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso to bring the Bard off the stage into a physical cinematic arena; Shakespearean dialogue, mixed with thick Scottish brogue at certain instances, can be hard to follow.
Kurzel’s final climactic sequence, set against a forest blaze is one of the most glorious and trippy visceral battle sequences I can remember. Flakes of ash rain like a blizzard on near faceless and listless recruits, as the power brokers (Malcolm and MacDuff) from a past legacy look to slay the mad tyrannical Macbeth. Jed Kurzel’s score is at its best when it’s complementing these dreamlike sequences.
Macbeth is the kind film that lingers and haunts you.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Play: William Shakespeare (Billy to his mates)
Screen writers: Jacob Kosloff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Elizabeth Debicki: Lady MacDuff
Macbeth: Michael Fassbender
MacDuff: Sean Harris
Lady Macbeth: Marion Cotillard
King Duncan: David Thewlis
Prince Malcom: Jack Reynor
Banquo: Paddy Considine
Lennox: David Hayman