Macbeth (2015)

Posted by Joel Copling on December 10, 2015


On one hand, at least this representation of William Shakespeare's play places the right amount of focus on the soliloquies. On the other hand, that consideration comes from simply viewing the soliloquies on their own merits. When placed in the context of the film as a whole, every bit of spoken dialogue is delivered by the actors performing it on the same wavelength of dourness, which means that, for all intents and purposes, everything comes across as a soliloquy, which kind of corrupts the point of a soliloquy. One here is delivered in a way that makes the audience the direct recipient of its text, while another (perhaps the most popular of the source material) is merely delivered as an extension on a scene whose intention as a payoff is oddly distorted as a result.

Part of that might be in the screenplay by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso, which condenses a lot of Shakespeare's text to the bare necessities. We know what happens, but it seems to happen a bit quicker than we're accustomed to. Our titular general, played with a lot of whispery mania by Michael Fassbender, is reunited with King Duncan (David Thewlis) after a long stretch in combat. He celebrates with the king and, during the night, kills him in a fit of jealousy that the king's son Malcolm (Jack Reynor) is now the prince of Cumberland. Macbeth's lady (Marion Cotillard, who fares best among the cast here) slowly slips into a madness terrible with grief after the series of deaths her actions inspire, including Macbeth's good and doomed friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) and the wife, children, and servants of Macduff (Sean Harris, who gets the film's most emotionally charged moment and sells it completely).

We know that Macbeth becomes greedy with power, although the shift in dynamic from her manipulation of him to his own manipulation of the circumstances is a curious one with which the screenwriters and director Justin Kurzel never quite reconcile. The film is, at least, a pristine production, from the sparse locations and moments of battle captured by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (the final confrontation between Macbeth and the eventual antagonist is captured all in red) to Jed Kurzel's score, awash with the kind of notes that will become immediately iconic. But there is something off here--an emotional detachment from the material that is conveyed through recitations of the dialogue that feel obligatory rather than passionate.

Of course, with Shakespeare, it's always far more important that the actors understand the text more than the audience does. The beauty lay in the performance, while the material exists as a tool for the performance of that material. Here, it is the blunt statement about man's capacity for violence set in a time of war and domination, but it's also the way that Lady Macbeth pours her soul out before, as the text states, taking off her life that requires someone else present in the scene (She is alone in this version, speaking to nobody other than an apparition that represents that "damned spot"). "Macbeth" is the classic case of a movie that needed at least another hour--perhaps longer--and not the sensation of rushing through a dinner rehearsal.

Film Information


Michael Fassbender (Macbeth), Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth), Paddy Considine (Banquo), Sean Harris (Macduff), Jack Reynor (Malcolm), Elizabeth Debicki (Lady Macduff), David Thewlis (Duncan).

Directed by Justin Kurzel and written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso, based on the play by William Shakespeare.

Rated R (violence, brief sexuality).

112 minutes.

Released in select cities on December 4, 2015.