|Review by Elizabeth Robbins|
I don’t think you can get anymore pop culture than Shakespeare.
Echoes of his writing appear in everything from books to movies to television commercials. Even as I review this new release of Macbeth, another major feature film version of it is already in production.
Hollywood and the international film community continues to mine the Bard’s works because although the language is outdated, the stories are not.
Macbeth is filled with as much sex, violence, and betrayal as anything Game of Thrones can dish out, and this latest film version of Macbeth does it with a polished, art-house swagger.
If you stayed awake in high school English class, you know that basics of the story. In ancient Scotland, Macbeth, loyal general of the King of Scotland, is told of a prophecy by three witches that he will become King. Manipulated by his ambitious wife, Macbeth murders his sovereign and becomes King. Driven mad by his deeds, he becomes a murderous tyrant in an attempt to keep the throne.
For the most part, director Justin Kurzel and his writing team stay true to the original play, but some bits have been streamlined for time and modern audiences. Key scenes and soliloquies have been changed. For someone who loves Shakespeare’s language, the omissions leave a hole in the fabric of the film that is distracting.
Michael Fassbender’s turn as the title character is less blowhard them some interpretations, and yet his 0-60 mph, sane to crazypants Macbeth is riveting. Whether it is because of modern adaptation or the actresses choice, Academy Awards winner Marion Cotillard is a more sympathetic Lady Macbeth. Her manipulations of her husband are more subtle and seem to be drive more by personal tragedy than ambition. With the exception of Sean Harris as a fiery Macduff, the Thane whom seeks to restore the rightful heir to the throne, the rest of the stellar cast seems to be under orders to not go too theatrical, keeping their performances more grounded, almost somber.
And that was my overall impression of the film, somber and grey. The landscapes were grey, the costumes were grey, even the opening battle scene was misty and grey. Everything until last great battle were shades of heavy, grey, and oppressive. This Macbeth feels like it suffers from the same issue as a number of superhero films do. In an effort to make it feel modern and realistic, all the color has been quite literally taken out, and we are left a dull screen that transports us nowhere.
Not that the story of Macbeth is cheery story, but when a film is mostly all one note, it’s hard to carry an audience through the two hour journey. Shakespeare is often taken too seriously, filmmakers and stage producers forget that its roots are in telling a story to entertain the masses. Shakespeare didn’t write to appeal to the highbrow elite, he wrote to entertain the general public.
This film misses that mark as well. Although beautifully constructed and acted, it will probably be largely inaccessible to a traditional American audience.