Review by Garth Jones
This latest cinematic adaptation of Macbeth is South Australian director Justin Kurzel’s sophomore film, following in the grim footsteps of 2011’s Snowtown.
An assured interpretation of Shakespeare’s short, brutal play, Kurzel’s film stars Michael Fassbender as its tormented protagonist, while French actress Marion Cotillard essays a blank, detached Lady Macbeth.
The lean script distils the nihilism at the heart of the Macbeths’ vaulting ambition and ruthless sense of entitlement and predestination. Fassbender and Cotillard are deftly supported by a cast including Sean Harris as Macduff, Paddy Considine as Banquo and David Thewlis as the noble, doomed King Duncan.
Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw employs a stark, primary coloured tableau, his frame capturing the horror of medieval bloodshed undertaken on the surreal, blasted heaths of Scotland.
As always, Shakespeare’s preternatural understanding of human nature, of our hubris and foibles, remains unmatched almost 400 years after his death. Consider especially that our preview screening took place in a week when a sitting prime minister was deposed in his first term, arguably reinforcing many of ‘the Scottish play’s’ themes.
Macbeth is concerned with the key protagonists’ arrogant rejection of morality in favour of the pursuit of power and influence. As the narrative grinds towards its harrowing conclusion, the Biblical maxim “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) is illustrated in gruelling, tragic relief.
Illustrating the futility of a thirst for unbridled power, the broad sweep of history highlighting its doomed folly, Kurzel’s adaptation is compelling. Evoking modern cinematic fare such as 300 and Lord of the Rings, Macbeth nonetheless embraces the existential meditations and expressionism of Ingmar Bergman and his ilk.
An accomplished, spare film, Macbeth reinforces Kurzel’s status as a director of note. Fassbender and the ensemble deliver haunted, committed performances, embracing the doomed, supernaturally charged ambience of Shakespeare’s portentous tale.
A spellbinding meditation on the absence of God, the promotion of selfish ideals and power’s corrupting influence, this latest iteration of Macbeth is elemental, powerhouse cinema.