Justin Kurzel's is a Macbeth stripped of lit-class ponderousness, stage-bound declaiming, Ren Fest cosplay, and prestige-film pomposity. It is the essence of this cruelest of plays, the blade unsheathed — and, as a blade would be after hacking through all these Scottish wars, its edge is blunt, rough, a thing to gut with rather than slice smoothly. This is a Macbeth to sink into and shrink from, not one to parse.
There's poetry among the witchery and warfare, and not just in the speeches. (Unlike the
It's in Kurzel's mist-choked Highlands, the piss-yellow skies, the way the moon burns through a scrim of cloud, the waft and drift of snow and ash and ember. It's in the way Kurzel's witches, the traditional trio plus a knee-high trainee, stand atop their world's spine, swathed in their black robes but also in the fogging breath of the day or the night or the
But left unchecked, that fire, like Macbeth's ambition, consumes all. This isn't a film of soliloquies, it's one of
So this Macbeth will enjoy a long post-theatrical afterlife of not being much help for high school students. (If they want their Scottish play bloody and mad they should try Polanski's film; if they want the test-prep and the full heart and horror of the thing, they should try Trevor Nunn's 1978 Royal Shakespeare production, with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, available in full on YouTube.) Here, Marion Cotillard, as the brains behind the grisly business of thane-promotion, finds all the grim power in the lines about ripping a baby from her nipple and dashing its brains out, but Michael Fassbender, so tigerish yet haunted throughout, takes a knee on the climactic tomorrow/tomorrow/tomorrow speech. It's as if he and Kurzel have decided that it's enough just to get this most despairing of all verse spoken out loud. Fassbender's Macbeth, undone by news of a death that wasn't his doing, delivers the famous lines as if they're something he long ago committed to
Macbeth's best-known line almost breaks the spell. When Fassbender speaks of life as some poor player strutting/fretting upon the stage, I was pulled for a breath from the film's deliciously suffocating mud-pit: When might any of Kurzel's murderin' Scots have found time for anything so un-elemental as theatergoing? I've never seen filmed Shakespeare so entirely removed from the playhouse — or given such full, fresh life. Even Michael Almereyda's biker-gang Cymbeline comes down to actors, on a set, trying to sound natural as they recite. There's little of that here — nobody seems cowed or excited to be swimming in the very headwaters of our English. Kurzel's film, and all its gloomy
The verse is mostly spoken in
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis, and David Hayman. Directed by Jason Kurzel. Written by Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, and Michael Lesslie. Adapted from the play by William Shakespeare. 113 minutes. Rated R. Opens Friday, December 18, at Living Room Theaters (FAU Main Campus, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton; 561-549-2600; fau.livingroomtheaters.com).