Remember how just after The Avengers became absolutely huge, Joss Whedon took some of his favorite actors and made a version of Much Ado About Nothing? Director Justin Kurzel must have really liked that idea, so much so that he got his big Shakespeare adaption out before he and star Michael Fassbender could start work on their big franchise movie, Assassin’s Creed. So instead of a palette cleanser, the Scottish play instead serves as a trial run for this cast and crew’s ability to do historical epics. And what a savage epic it is.
This depiction of the classic story of betrayal, murder, and karmic comeuppance emphasizes the war-torn Scotland that serves as the backdrop of most versions. A lot of Shakespeare’s plays are set around war, but this Macbeth is keen on showing not just the gritty battles featured in the play, but the toll it’s taking on everyone. It paints Macbeth himself (Fassbender) as something of a PTSD-sufferer, cloudy and uncertain after so much death. His increasingly warped mind and the uncertain times end up driving the action much more than the typical mastermind adaptations focus on, Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth as played by Marion Cotillard is still the best performance of this movie, even though it felt like she was more of a schemer than the player she could have been. Her world seems to center around her husband; she wants him to have more power, she worries about his state of mind. Eventually she just wanders out of the picture, a shame since I really did feel like Cotillard was bringing it while Fassbender’s performance was a little too mumbly.
But the real star of this Macbeth is the aesthetics. Characters are dressed in beautiful costumes and always seem to have mud, blood, and paint all over themselves. The sets always felt cold, whether they were Scottish marshes, Macbeth’s tiny wooden home, or the vast castle rooms. This extends to the film’s color palette as well, which is desaturated save for bright, bloody reds. Clearly Macbeth is not set in a happy, easy world.
Finally, I must ask you how much you enjoy slow motion brutality. Because the movie’s big battles contain many slow motion shots, which may or may not work for you. This is a brooding movie, one that is at its best when it indulges in dark visual flourishes. Let me put it this way: I might not really have enjoyed a Fassbender/Cotillard Macbeth play, but Kurzel did enough as a director to make it an interesting film. Now let’s see how he does when the source material is a video game story so muddled not even Lady Macbeth could figure it all out.