There is no faster way to whip a fan-base into an unbridled frenzy than botching a film adaption of a deeply-loved book or play. Look no further than The Da Vinci Code (2006), The Great Gatsby (2013), or even the entire Hobbit franchise, and you’ll find the book-loving naysayers brandishing their original source material like a sword to cut down those who dare call any book-based-film “good enough.”
Today, however, it appears that the naysayers will not have their victory. Justin Kurzel’s adaption of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (starring Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth) is remarkably true to its roots. For better or worse, almost no details or dialogue are changed from the original play, creating a very accurate, if somewhat inaccessible, representation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.
Beyond its adherence to the text, Macbeth succeeds on many fronts. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw is most noteworthy. Across the board, the visuals of the movie rival the very best that the industry has to offer. Usage of grand set pieces and wide-angle shots injects life into Kurzel’s film, and intercutting crystal-clear slow motion into the battle scenes sets Macbeth apart from the mindless violence often found in Hollywood blockbusters. On occasion, the camera pans away from the bloodshed, but at other points delivers a close shot of a knockout blow or grimey death and destruction. Seeing Macbeth relentlessly stab King Duncan or watching arrows enter a helpless Banquo’s chest adds extreme emotional weight to Macbeth. The film finds the perfect middle-ground between toned-back and gratuitous violence, which is one of its best selling points overall.
Cast-wise, Macbeth could not be more impressive. Big names like Marion Cotillard and Sean Harris perform admirably. Michael Fassbender, as Macbeth himself, is the standout performance of the film. He plays his role with commitment and emotion and the experience would fall much shorter without him. Paddy Considine, with his excellent portrayal of Macbeth’s friend Banquo, is an honorable mention as well.
Macbeth’s score, composed by Jed Kurzel, proves that less musical ambience can be more effective—some scenes contain no music at all, creating an air of tension and anticipation. At other points, the score is magnificent, leading Justin Kurzel’s storytelling by the hand and echoing the regal and epic nature of Shakespeare’s story.
Of course, as Macbeth teaches us, ambition can be a downfall as much as it can be a motivator. Justin Kurzel’s decision to use Shakespeare’s original language was a bold one, but perhaps a dangerous one, too. Though it is executed well, the dialogue of Macbeth can become clunky and hard to follow, just by virtue of the fact that 17th-century written English is rarely spoken or heard by the audience. Had they chosen not to use this language, the film may well have come together in a much more coherent way. Along with this issue comes the fact that the first half of Macbeth is extremely exposition-heavy, which causes early pieces of the movie to drag out excessively. For everyone except the most well-versed in Shakespeare’s work, Macbeth can be somewhat inaccessible because of these problems.
Despite its shortcomings, though, Kurzel’s Macbeth succeeds. It is a fantastic example of how classic stories hold merit beyond their social context, and should undoubtedly be viewed by anyone who considers themselves a film aficionado.
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures