Macbeth (2015)

2016.11: Macbeth (Blu ray)

mac1.jpgShakespeare by way of Game Of Thrones. It is visually powerful film-making and a critical darling, but how well the bard’s writing is transferred is open to some debate. I’m sure purists would take this film to task in much the same way as Tolkien purists would with The Lord Of The Rings films. Although it is a period-set film it is thoroughly modern in its execution, so much so that it often feels a triumph of style over substance and inevitably loses some of the depth and beauty of the original.

I’ll confess that I’m not too familiar with that original text. Not that I expect that matters too much here. I’m told that scenes have been cut, monologues cut, scenes changed (the most arresting visual, the camera panning across a windswept beach to sandy dunes where several captives are being burnt to death, is a major change from the original text). On the one hand I think it is commendable when filming Shakespeare’s work for a film-maker to be brave enough to change things/make it his own (Julie Taymor’s Titus was one such arresting work). However to a degree much of this seems to just make the film more confusing rather than more coherent or palatable to modern audiences.

Baz Luhrmann got it perfect with his 1996 version of Romeo & Juliet. An opening monologue in the form of a news broadcast, accompanied by a carefully chosen visual montage  of characters and scenes, perfectly set that film up while the film at the same time updated the setting to a modern-day city named Verona Beach. Macbeth lacks that grounding. Set in the period (albeit by way of Game of Thrones) and place of the play, we are thrown into it without any of the characters being introduced or their motivations or allegiances explained. It’s unnecessarily confusing and while I might otherwise have cut the director (Justin Kurzel) some slack, having had the unfortunate experience of seeing his previous film, the horrible Snowtown, and recognising similar failings in storytelling, I have to say it’s definitely lazy and a case of unnecessary style spoiling content. I can’t say I’m particularly enamored by Kurzel’s style so far.

mac2It’s a film trying too hard to be visually arresting; the performances are fine (Fassbender particularly excellent as usual) but the film is so intent to make us smell the dirt, wince at the violence and gasp at the beautiful imagery that it forgets what makes the original text so timeless. This Macbeth is certainly of its time, it is always a film of 2015 even though it is ostensibly a period film.It’s bold and its bewildering and it feels wholly designed for Imax.

Still, the film has its fans. While I enjoyed it, it also frustrated me and failed to fully win me over. Perhaps a repeat viewing now I am more familiar with its plot and its storytelling method will warm me to it more. It is definitely a marvel for the senses and looks and sounds gorgeous on Blu ray, but I was hoping/expecting something perhaps more… authentic. Had it held back on some of that visual design and perhaps kept more of the original work within it, it might have achieved this. As it is, it seems to lack substance, and actually feels like a ‘cut-down’ version, as if there is a superior three-hour directors cut waiting in the wings. Which of course there isn’t.

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4 thoughts on “Macbeth (2015)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    I went to see it at the cinema. I lasted twenty-five minutes and walked out.

    It was a rough morning and I wasn’t in a great mood, but it just felt like an advert. A gloomy fashionable advert. The photography, the editing, everything. Style over substance indeed. Nothing connected for me.

    1. Absolutely. Glad you feel the same way, watching it on disc seemed like a case of the Emperors New Clothes. I only seemed to see rave notices about it when it came out at the cinema. I had intended to see it then but didn’t get chance, so was suckered into buying it on disc.

      I suppose I might have cut it a bit more slack, but I still feel dirty after watching Snowtown. That too was praised by critics. Seems to me style conquers all these days. Whatever happened to content?

  2. I watched this a couple of weeks back when it came out on disc, but haven’t written a review yet because I’m still percolating my feelings. I liked its style on the whole, and I get Kurzel’s motivation to translate some of the text visually rather than just copy & paste Shakespeare, but he perhaps went a little too far.

    I won’t go on about it now (I’ll save that for when I get round to a full piece!), but I think we’re still left waiting for a definitive screen version of Macbeth. This film now has its advocates, and so does Polanski’s version, but neither are quite it for me. (Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is an amazing movie, and the best of the three on those grounds, but it’s not Shakespeare’s play enough to be a definitive adaptation.)

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