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MACBETH (2015)

SYNOPSIS: MACBETH is the story of a fearless warrior and inspiring leader brought low by ambition and desire. A thrilling interpretation of the dramatic realities of the times and a reimagining of what wartime must have been like for one of Shakespeare's most famous and compelling characters, a story of all-consuming passion and ambition, set in war torn Scottish landscape.

Review by Louise Keller:
A powerful visceral statement in which imagery and music almost overshadow the dialogue, Justin Kurzel's Macbeth is a stunning and ambitious piece of cinema, capturing the essence of Shakespeare's classic tragedy about power, madness and death. The adaptation by Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso and Michel Lesslie is loose with key elements from the play rearranged.

Having been brought to prominence by his non-compromising Snowtown in 2011 about the gruesome bodies in barrels murders, Kurzel goes for broke, delivering a savage, raw film that delivers its message, despite some of the dialogue being hard to decipher, due to broad Scottish accents and the track mix with the key soundscape by his brother Jed Kurzel. The soundscape is a character of its own, with its often monotonic hum and wailing confusion of strings (at times reminiscent of bagpipes) that joust with the timbre of a percussive beat.

Key to the action are the defining performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, who place their own stamp on the power-hungry Macbeth and his lady wife who encourages her husband's murderous aspirations. We already know what Fassbender is capable of, whereas Cotillard never ceases to surprise with her steely resolve countered by an outpouring of emotions. When she weeps; we weep. There's strong sexual energy between the two and Fassbender epitomizes the warrior of Kurzel's construct.

The eerie opening scene in which Macbeth and his wife grieve over their dead child is followed by a ghostly mist that filters through the somber sky like ethereal horses dancing on the moors. The setting is bleak and cold; the warriors adorn their war paint; there's a clank of metal before the rumbling war cry as they run into violent battle; slow-motion sequences accentuating the bloody barbarity of the scene. The three witches, with their predictions that Macbeth will be king make their ghostly appearances on the moors shortly thereafter. Lady Macbeth's ambition and encouragement ensure the bloody deed is done: the brutal stabbing death of King Duncan (David Thewlis).

I like the way Kurzel has juxtaposed images of the stabbing as the regal crown is placed on Macbeth's head as if to depict the great cost of power. There are many memorable moments including Lady Macbeth's 'What is done cannot be undone' speech, when tears pour from her eyes like liquid grief.

The entire production is striking, topped off by a stylized red camera filter in the final sequence, which may be at odds with the rest of the film, but somehow it works. Stunning.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I think Shakespeare would approve of this retelling, starting as it does with the three witches on the blasted heath, especially as the witches are not caricatures and as the landscape and skies reflect the sombre mood of a sombre Scotland. Superstition is the social currency of the day. Betrayal is afoot. The king is in danger. Lives are easily lost in bloody battle. (If you read these words with your best Scottish accent, vowels all distended, you’ll quickly get in the mood yerselfs…)

Mood and tone are everything in Jed Kurzel’s reading of the writers’ adaptation, and what better than music and sound to drive that home in tandem with the images. Luckily we know the story, so losing chunks of dialogue to the gods of authenticity and sound mix matters less than usual. As I say, tone is the thing, and you’d have to be tone deaf not to get it. Whether you like it or not is another matter. Old traditionalists with memories of classic Macbeth may find it a challenge to see it delivered with a contemporary sensibility, but the film pays its respects to the original with its powerful period setting. William’s words are spoken as written, without the distorted emphasis of respect for classicism.

No stage play could match the power of the landscape depicted here, rugged, beautiful, misty, wintry, expansive and foreboding as far as the eye can see … which is as far as Dunsinane.

Jed Kurzel has made his vision come alive on screen, and it is a singular, visceral, audio visual Macbeth, operatic without the arias. No wonder Cannes selected it for the Competition. With a different jury, it could well have won the Palme d’Or.

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MACBETH (2015) (MA15+)
(UK/France/US, 2015)

CAST: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Pady Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harrism Jack Reynor Elizabeth Debicki

PRODUCER: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Laura Hastings-Smith

DIRECTOR: Justin Kurzel

SCRIPT: Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso, Michel Lesslie (based on play by William Shakespeare)


EDITOR: Chris Dickens

MUSIC: Jed Kurzel


RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes



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