David Bradley reviews Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
Gawler–born director Justin Kurzel’s second feature (the other was, of course, Snowtown), this filming of Shakespeare’s ‘cursed’ tragedy is a marvellously brooding and spirited reading of the play with vast and freezing Scottish plains as a backdrop, a little plot tinkering, as much violence and filth as Roman Polanski’s 1971 version (but less pervy sex) and two terrific performances at its heart. If you’ve seen any of the other endless filmings of the tale (or maybe you were forced to study it in high school) then the plot doesn’t bear discussion, with only what Kurzel and his writers (Michael Lesslie, Jacob Koskoff and Todd Louiso) have intriguingly added to, or removed from, the Bard’s original text is worth mentioning, perhaps as a warning to purists. We briefly open with Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) at the funeral of their child, a major addition that makes sense but should prove controversial; we never really leave the battlefield, where we see all the slo–mo, stylised carnage that the theatre can never properly stage; and there’s no humour for audience relief (the boozy Porter is completely absent, for example), making the story far harder and more unforgiving. Kurzel could have also been overwhelmed by that ‘Great Actor’ Fassbender, and yet he reigns the star in and ensures that this Macbeth is more human and less ranting. Even potentially overacting–friendly moments where Richard Burton might have hammed it up (as when Banquo’s accusing ghost seemingly appears) are delivered instead with a quiet, frightened intensity. Yet Fassbender’s upstaged by Cotillard, who replaced Natalie Portman, always dreamed of playing the role and proves extraordinary as a Lady Macbeth whose teary ‘Damn Spot’ monologue is rendered in just about a single to–camera take in one of the most remarkable sequences in any movie so far this year. Rated CTC