Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The plot of the film is the same as that of the play. Macbeth (Michael Fassbender- Steve Jobs, Prometheus, X-Men: Days of Future Past) is a general in the army of Scotland, which has just triumphed against invading forces. After the King (David Thewlis- Harry Potter and The New World) executes the Thane (Lord) of Cawdor as a traitor, Macbeth acquires his title. But he has been visited by a trio of dark spirits, who has foretold him he would become Thane and that he will soon be King. Although Macbeth is unsure of how to act on this prophecy, his wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard- Inception, The Immigrant, La Vie en Rose) urges him to murder the King in order to ensure that the witches’ words come true. Macbeth, of course, does murder the King and takes his place. But afterwards, his mind becomes twisted with paranoia and fear, and Lady Macbeth’s with guilt and remorse.
In many ways, this is a very traditional adaption of Macbeth. Kurzel retains all the Shakespearian language, so if you’re not into that you'll probably want to pass on this one. The cinematography is done in such a way that many scenes recall a stage, with many wide shots with all the characters positioned as if they were in a theatre. The acting is done in a more dramatic (ie play-like) rather than cinematic style, with Fassbender and Cotlliard frequently bellowing out their lines like they needed to make sure the people in the back row could hear them. It’s certainly a traditional style, but one that meshes well with both lead actors and certainly the cinematographer.
But where this movie does feel very cinematic is how it incorporates elements of the war drama. The play does of course have this as part of the plot, but it is rarely touched upon in most performances and adaptions. Macbeth is a great general and warrior -the play opens with him receiving praise for winning a battle- and the climax of the story takes place during another invasion of Scotland, this time against Macbeth. Kurzel brings this often-neglected aspect of the story back to the forefront with a series of battles which wouldn’t look out of place in Braveheart, Gladiator, or any similar historical epic. The total screen time of the battles is still fairly minimal though, so the war epic aspect only compliments –and never overtakes- the traditional theatrical sections.
Overall, Macbeth is a quite enjoyable (if not incredibly original) film which functions well as both an adaption of one of the most well-known pieces of theatre ever written and an epic war film. It has Shakespearian language, solid acting by both Fassbender and Cotillard, beautiful cinematography, and bloody action scenes. So if you’re a fan of any or all of the above, give Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth a shot- I think you’ll like it.