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.

Snowtown (2011)

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2016.6: Snowtown (Blu ray)

John Bunting is Australia’s most notorious serial killer, who between August 1992 and May 1999 killed 11 people, the crimes uncovered only when barrels containing human remains were discovered in an abandoned bank vault by police investigating missing persons cases.

Snowtown is a thoroughly nasty film. Its just, well, horrible. I wouldn’t call it entertainment at all and doubt I’ll ever have the inclination to watch it again. Did director Justin Kurzel aim for this effect when he made the film? If so he succeeded brilliantly, but I wonder if this kind of film-making should be commended or damned. The nearest thing I can compare this film to is Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (another film I managed to watch once and never again).  Of course its perfectly logical- any film that attempts to get into the mind of a serial killer is going to be disturbing. But this is something else. Bunting didn’t act alone. He had help from friends. Snowtown displays the absolute dark side of humanity- a humanity of prejudice and hate and ignorance. It depicts with chilling efficiency a squalid underclass that is alienated and amoral, and the film seems to be as much about the dismal Australian suburb of Snowtown that gives the film its name, and the people within it, as it is about Bunting and the murders. I wouldn’t even describe the film as particularly graphic regards the murders themselves.Most of it is off-camera, left to the imagination. Maybe that makes it all the more disturbing.

Maybe if the story was just fiction it would be ok, but this stuff really happened. The reality of it hangs its awful shadow over everything depicted, you just can’t avoid it, particularly with everything being presented so…  so efficiently. Besides which, there is a scene in which Bunting hands sixteen-year-old Jamie a gun and tells him to shoot dead his dog. Well, I nearly stopped the film right there. Bad enough scenes of molestation, rape and buggery etc, but as a dog owner I find such cruelty to animals particularly harrowing.

Performances are excellent, the cast of unknowns looking like real people rather than actors, which gives the film a grim air of reality- there is a feel of the camera being present at real, spontaneous events rather than something staged (which just makes it all the uglier). In particular Daniel Henshall, who plays Bunting,  gives a remarkable performance that I’d ordinarily praise and state as a reason to watch the film. Unfortunately though the ugliness of the film outweighs Henshall’s achievement – Snowtown is such a thoroughly depressing and distressing film that I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s certainly not entertainment, not in my book.