Having impressed and shocked with his debut picture Snowtown, Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel is now tackling Shakespeare in his sophomore endeavour, by retelling the glorious and grim tale of Macbeth. While it’s certainly commendable that he’s not attempting to be overtly creative with one of the Bard’s finest works, Kurzel is not remaining frustratingly faithful to the source material either, reinterpreting with a minimum contrivance.
Though it’s the dialogue that is of course the most noteworthy aspect to this tale, some of the most moving and powerful scenes within this feature bear no words at all. Much of that is down to the ineffable charisma and presence of the leading two stars Michael Fassbender (Macbeth) and Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth). But that’s not all, as the esteemed pair are joined by both Sean Harris (Macduff) and Paddy Considine (Banquo) – the latter standing out as the film’s very best performer, which considering the credentials of his co-stars, is no mean feat.
This visceral, nuanced piece comes into its element during the breathtaking battle sequences, set against the unforgiving landscape of the Scottish Highlands. The backdrop is immense and picturesque, but what’s happening in front of it is far from it – as bleak, moody and destructive conflicts transpire, with certain slow-motion sequences being nothing short of stunning. The colour of red remains prevalent throughout too – symbolic of the very shade of blood that Lady Macbeth can’t wash off of her hands; it’s almost emblematic of hell, and for some of the scenes where Macbeth is battling not only the opposition but his own inner demons, hell is a rather fitting description.
Though stylistically and visually breathtaking, Macbeth remains unrelentingly desolate, and certainly shares that much in common with Snowtown, as Kurzel has demonstrated his ability to adapt to a whole new cinematic style and yet not lose sight of his distinct sensibilities as a filmmaker. You know he’s done a fine job too when you feel that the picture is actually too short in length. It’s seldom you’ll hear a critic claim a film wasn’t long enough – but in the case of Macbeth, it does feel as though a more extensive, prolonged study of our protagonist’s descent into internal chaos and destruction could have been beneficial.