Macbeth December 26, 2016
Stark and bloody, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the cinematic revolutionist’s dream. So optically opulent and viscerally violent is it that it practically revitalizes everything we’ve come to know about the text, even if that said coming to know happened years ago within the constraints of a hellish tenth grade English class. Its atmosphere as bleak as it is grandiosely beautiful, it’s classic tragedy turned fresh, Kurzel’s direction breathtakingly visionary.
In this incarnation of the iconic play, Michael Fassbender portrays the tormented anti-hero with gritty vulnerability — all ferocious immorality with a hint of tortured regret. We, of course, watch thirstily as Macbeth kills to become king, at the arduous suggestions of his scheming wife (a magnificent Marion Cotillard).
Kurzel’s Macbeth differs so prominently from its countless counterparts because it’s so much more made for the silver screen than your usual adaptation — sweeping to the point of being reminiscent of an expansive fantasy, it breathes and it lingers, its avoidance of real time sequentiality inviting in room for contemplation and, when need be, catharsis.
It’s a piece — running just under two hours (which may feel short for the Shakespeare enthusiast with a preference for epic theatricality) — as ambitious as the Macbeths could ever be, audacious without being inaccessible. Too intent to supplement its human turmoil with startling cinematography (on the part of the fearless Adam Arkapaw), its performances sting as fiercely as its images.
Sometimes, though, 2015’s rendition of Macbeth bears accessibility attainable to the point of being oversimplified, its generally short running length transforming it from moving saga to sometimes diaphanous melodrama. Oftentimes do its characterizations seem glossy and unreachable — an issue for the standard audience member not as comprehensibly familiar with the material as your everyday literary scholar — and oftentimes does the story lack the thorough immediacy originally set by Shakespeare (its lustrousness, while gorgeous, tends to cause the tense, near inescapable, ambience of the play to wither).
Still, Kurzel’s vision is awesome to behold — to think Macbeth is only his second feature only characterizes him as a major talent to be closely watched — and Fassbender and Cotillard are respectively startling as Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth. (Fassbender is particularly incendiary, his every monologue exceptionally tinged with Macbeth’s every neurosis.) Even as difficulty arises to connect as cohesively to the film as made possible by past Shakespeare adaptations, visual and performative intoxication is an inescapability — Kurzel and company are too provocative to resist. B