MACBETH, Shakespeare drama, rated R, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
The dark, rainy, desolate Scotland of director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth hardly seems worth fighting for. By the time (and that time comes quickly) it is awash in rivers of blood, the slit throats and slashed bodies that pave the way of the serial-murdering Thane of Glamis and Cawdor to an uneasy crown ring up as a steep and terrible price to pay.
This adaptation of Shakespeare’s play-that-must-not-be-named (theatrical superstition forbids the uttering of the title inside a theater) is powerful, brutal, original, and sometimes almost incomprehensible. Even taking into account the cut-and-slash reworking of the text by the team of screenwriters ( Jacob Koskoff, Michael Leslie, and Todd Luiso), the writing is magnificent. But the more familiar you are with the language of the play, the better off you will be, because, as half-whispered in hoarse Scottish brogues throughout most of the movie, against an insistent score (by the director’s brother, Jed Kurzel) that is sometimes mournful, sometimes booming, much of the dialogue is lost.
The cast, headed by Michael Fassbender in the title role, and the haunting, saucer-eyed Marion Cotillard as his lethal wife, is superb, and the film’s performances work masterfully to overcome the auditory challenge with their intensity. Most of the men in the piece have that thick-bodied medieval solidity familiar from George R.R. Martin’s Game
of Thrones, but Fassbender still manages to convey a tortured vulnerability as he slowly loses his moral compass and his mind. Kurzel has transposed a number of famous speeches to intriguingly unfamiliar circumstances: The dagger that the murderous thane sees before him is held in ghostly hands, and his thoughts on the petty pace of tomorrow and tomorrow are whispered into dead, deaf ears.
The cinematography by Adam Arkapaw is majestic, and almost unremittingly dark, which adds to the murkiness of identification of some of the players and the lines they are speaking, but it’s stunningly impressive. By the time Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, the hell on earth that Macbeth’s misguided ambition has wrought has become tangible and terrifying.
Kurzel opens on a Macbeth family burial, as the grieving parents stand over the bier of a dead child. Soon the thane is in battle, and his other son is slain. The battle scenes are shot with stupefyingly gory intensity, alternating between slow motion, full motion, and stop motion as heads and limbs fly and guts spill into the mud and mist of the Scottish heath. And by the time the Weird Sisters (the traditional three accompanied by a weird little sister) appear on the moor and make their pronouncements about Macbeth’s prospects, it does seem as if the poor guy is in the grip of an irresistible destiny, and has very little say in what’s to come.
Rogue with a brogue: Michael Fassbender