Macbeth (The Weinstein Company, R)

Macbeth15 75_copyI went in hoping for a good adaptation of Macbeth, and while I didn’t get that, I left the theatre happy all the same.

 

 

 

 

Macbeth15 500_copy

Just last week I was writing about the Amazon Studios production Chi-Raq, and now we have another film, Macbeth, with the Amazon Studios logo on it. Chi-Raq is a good movie, and while Macbeth has its problems, it is if nothing else a very cinematic movie (which I mean as high praise), and my biggest overriding feeling coming out of the press screening of the film is that it’s strange Amazon is spending money producing stuff like this as fodder to watch on your fucking tablet, when it would be best suited to seeing it on as big a screen as possible, and sitting in the front row at that.

You likely have assumed, but this Macbeth is another adaptation of the Shakespeare play of the same name. I am fine with this—if I’m going to see any Shakespeare play performed live on the stage, Macbeth is my favorite one to see. And while I prefer stage productions of this material, a handful of movie adaptations have been relatively successful as well, with the best ones I’ve seen being Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 Throne of Blood and Roman Polanski’s 1971 Macbeth. The director of this new one, Justin Kurzel, is no Kurosawa or Polanksi (but then, who is?). If you’re looking for an “if you like X movie, you’ll like this Macbeth” type of recommendation, this Macbeth bears a lot of similarities to Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2009 film Valhalla Rising—both films are at their best when they feature pretty cinematography of gloomy violence, cut into nice montages and set to moody music.

And it’s because of the frequency of these ambient depictions of murder in the outdoors that I wound up liking this Macbeth. That and its technical proficiency, which is surprisingly solid. If this film were my first exposure to the story of Macbeth, I imagine I’d still like the movie, but I’d probably wrongfully assume that I don’t much like the story. I’m glad to know that this isn’t the case, and with that in mind, maybe don’t show this film in a high school English class hoping it will get them into Shakespeare.

Of course, I doubt much of this film’s audience will be seeing it specifically for its excellent cinematography, music, or editing. If you’re not there for the Macbeth story itself, you’ll likely be drawn by its cast, most particularly Michael Fassbender as the title character and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. While I’ll happily agree with those who want to argue that Fassbender and Cotillard are easily among the best actors of their generation, they really do take a backseat to the overall aesthetic of the film. This is not so much because they turn in poor performances—they’re just fine—but more because the script, by Jeff Koskoff, Todd Louiso (Dick from High Fidelity!), and Michael Lesslie, is cut by about half from the play, and it renders fuzzy plot points, characterization, motivation, etc.

On the way out of the press screening, I ran into a film professor from Lindenwood University, and we talked about the film for a few minutes. He suggested that filmed adaptations of Shakespeare tend to be either very faithful to stage productions (see Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of Hamlet) or very modernized (see the same year’s travesty from Baz Luhrmann, Romeo + Juliet) and that this Macbeth wouldn’t appease either audience for those types of films. While I agree with this assessment, that isn’t to say that it has nothing to offer, either—I went in hoping for a good adaptation of Macbeth, and while I didn’t get that, I left the theatre happy all the same. | Pete Timmermann

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