Macbeth (15)

Directed by Justin Kurzel
Picturehouse, Liverpool
Till 22nd October 2015

Reviewed by Nick Daly

Don’t be deceived by the sleek advertising campaign adorned with the contemporary face of Michael Fassbender, 2015’s Macbeth is purely for purists. Whether this is a film ignorant to its wider, modern audience or indeed the wider, modern audience that is ignorant to a film and its 400-year-old source will depend entirely on the individual.

For this particular viewer, however, with his last encounter of Shakespeare being a decade-old GCSE English class, the effect is akin to watching a subtitle-less foreign language film, forced to engage with the plot purely on the basis of characters’ actions, their facial expressions, and the approximate three lines of dialogue that were personally decipherable.

It’s appreciative then that at times Macbeth is visually striking, with artful cinematography and slick editing that contrasts intriguingly with the traditionalism of its storytelling; a final act battle sequence, drenched in a smoky red as swords clash with a savage ferocity, is a contender for the most arresting image you’ll see at the cinema this year.

Meanwhile, Fassbender’s vacant-eyed snicker while he proclaims, “full of scorpions, is my mind,” is a glimpse of something truly special, as his and Marion Cottilard’s electrifying performances prove exactly why they’re the most exciting actors of their generation.

At other times, however, there’s an apparent dreariness that permeates the surrounding production. It’s perhaps director Justin Kurzel’s attempt at reflecting the bleakness of the narrative, and Shakespeare’s most resolutely evil character, but it’s an approach that ultimately drains the spirit out of a story that should pulsate with the energy of exploring the nature of humanity; a concept that demands a more bold and theatrical direction for it to thrive.

This aspect, combined with the brutality of Macbeth’s continual killings and their subsequent intense Shakespearean ramblings whilst underscored by an unrelentingly dread-filled score, induce a rather arduous viewing experience that invokes undesirable recollections of another sombre, Scottish-set film, Jonathon Glazer’s Under The Skin.

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