For those who saw Macbeth director Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown the thought of him adapting The Scottish Play should fill you with dreaded delight. Because that film, which portrayed a harrowing series of true murders, was a visceral, gut-wrenching affair. Take that aesthetic, apply it to the caldron of paranoia, madness, murder and revenge that is Macbeth and you have something both captivating, traumatizing and utterly hypnotic.
Suffice to say this is one Macbeth that Shakespeare would look upon and relish in its sheer chest-pounding anguish. Kurzel takes one of the most famous plays and creates something both modern and traditional. It is a feat that marks him as a director of stunning visual prowess.
For this incarnation of The Bard’s tragedy is seeped in blood, Scotland portrayed as either a baron wasteland or pure hell on earth. Every shot is either bleak with energy sapping cold or tinged with an orange and red hatred so powerful as to create a sense of the apocalyptic unfolding before your eyes.
The visuals that cinematographer Adam Arkapaw creates are enough to engage alone. Utilising symbolism, time-lapse and montage, the kind of which would make the master of this ilk Nicolas Roeg dance for joy, we witness Macbeth’s descent into madness on a level that takes us with him. As the world literally burns around him we feel the heat, touch the blood and fear what is to come. It’s a film brimming with dread, fear and horror. Indeed it is the closet to a horror film Shakespeare has surely come.
The two key roles of any Macbeth, that of the protagonist himself and his Lady, are played with award winning excellence by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth ethereally and seductively whispers sweet venom and poison into her husband’s ears. Cotillard finding levels of delicacy in a role that is too easily painted as a villain but here lent an inkling of sympathy thanks to a smart prologue of her mourning her child’s death and the trauma with which she beholds her husband’s unwinding. Fassbender meanwhile is relishing the role. Imposing, moody and almost god-like he could be straight out of a Guinness commercial, somehow more than human yet flawed and tangible. His crocodile grin and broken spirit deployed at just the right moments to illicit a smile or a tear exactly when you need them.
While it doesn’t always capture the majesty of Shakespeare it elevates The Bard to a previously unseen level. This Macbeth isn’t just dripping in blood and themes it’s drenched from head to screaming toe in them.