Movie Review: Macbeth (2015)

Macbeth is a moving piece of artwork filled with great performances from its leads, but it’s also a listless modern adaptation that lacks the psychological nuances of its source material.

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. [Studiocanal]

30 something years later after Polanski Macbeth gets adapted again to the big screen for the aughts. In fairness, the classic cautionary tale holds a universal lesson that is timely for today.

The modern adaptation has a high production value that’s not just for display. Detailed costumes include an odd looking crown that resemble tombstones held together by a chain. The hostile landscape shot in Scotland and gloomy interiors create an ominous atmosphere. Somber colors pervade the rest of the film, until it culminates into a blood-tinged backdrop of mist and fire to relay the tragedy  of its doomed lead.

The ever reliable Micheal Fassbender is meant to play this role. Self-assured but actually tormented characters is his niche. Marion Cottilard doesn’t make any attempt to use a Scottish accent, but she’s still pulls off a cold yet grieving wife.

These elements lend the third adaptation for Macbeth some gravitas, but the movie’s modern approach is a double edged sword.

The couple isn’t portrayed as people who fell into the trap of ambition, but rather as bitter parents who felt wronged by the world and want to watch it burn from their lofty throne. Lady Macbeth is neutered as a traumatized grieving mother, which isn’t a convincing manipulative figure. It’s not difficult to see Macbeth falling for the witch’s prophecy as a general and the movie didn’t invest ample time in what is supposed to be his painful hesitation over the decision. As soon as you realize that the Macbeths aren’t convincing enough as a flawed power couple, the narrative loses its appeal. It doesn’t help that the language becomes a bigger barrier.

The script tweaked the dialogue which wouldn’t have been a problem considering the source material if it weren’t incomprehensible. The characters either mumble or whisper through Old English, which is already hard to understand in the first place. The supporting cast also try their best to make their lines conversational but remains unengaging, which renders their key scenes together forgettable.

The movie uses modern tricks to compensate for this through sex and violence, but the former is a poor choice (an awkward moment in between monologues) and the latter (slow motion action sequences) aren’t enough to overlook the fact that the story is slow and monotonous.

Macbeth is no doubt a good looking period movie with two talented actors but this adaptation requires patience. This isn’t exactly the director’s fault because the Scottish play is difficult to translate to the big screen because of the way its written. However, you can see that the story meanders through extended scenes and repetitive apparitions and landscape shots. The stylized battle scenes especially the ending is worth watching. But in its attempt to present a gritty dark ages movie the adaptation loses the psychological nuances of its source material.

As a fan,  you may not like the film. As an average movie goer, it’ll be a challenge to sit through unless nice visuals and solid acting is enough. If you’re a student looking for an easy reference for that report, you’ll have to stick with Cliff’s Notes.

My Rating: 7/10

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