I'm not sure if Justin Kurzel's adaptation of William Shakespeare's “Macbeth” is underrated or just under-seen because for a film this glorious, more people should really be talking about it. Granted, the film only saw release in the United States in December, however in both the U.K and Australia it hit cinemas much earlier in the year, and it barely made a blip on the radar.
Kurzel's take on the classic tale of ambition, murder and regret is a very visual one, filled with some incredible moments that border on the surreal. Personally, I find the old poetic language of Shakespeare, for the most part, impenetrably dense, and at times I struggle to make heads or tails of it. Therefore it is not by chance that the films based on Shakespeare's plays that I do respond to, are those that are of a visual nature. Because of this, it goes without saying that the star of this film is cinematographer Adam Arkapaw and his stunning images. It is obvious that the scope and budget of this version of “Macbeth” was not even close to something like Roman Polanski's lavish 1971 production and yet Kurzel and Arkapaw come up with a way to match that film's ferocity for bloodlust and mental anguish. They set the film in a much grittier and pared back world. Gone are the large castles and in its place are simple tents layed out on a grassy knoll. By removing all of the opulent details and making everything rawer and smaller, it gives the film an immediacy to it and thus a greater sense of brutality. Kings are not protected by giant castle walls no more, a simple tent flap is their only protection, so the dangers in this reality feel very pronounced and palpable.
“Macbeth” is an especially bloody tale, and as such Kurzel stays true to this with his vision, but with the realistic world he has his story play out in, the violence isn't just bloody, it is also brutal. This is a film where you feel the pain of the violence on screen, be it either the physical or mental. My favourite visual moments in the film are those surreal ones I mentioned earlier, particularly the super (super) slow motion shots during the bloody battles. They immediately catch your eye and burn themselves into your mind. However, in saying all that, the entire film is just a visual feast and it is a shame that during this awards season, I am sure that Arkapaw's work will go unrecognised.
Besides the visual element, the other great asset this version of “Macbeth” has is Michael Fassbender in the title role. He is simply magnificent here, both at the start of the film when he is so strong and bold enough to assassinate his king, to later on when he is weak and pathetic and begging for a reprieve from his mental anguish. He is entirely convincing throughout and the change within Macbeth over the course of the film comes across as totally believable. In full disclosure, I should point out that Fassbender is currently my favourite actor working in cinema today. His range is unlike any one else, and he has the ability to just disappear into any role he is given, no matter how different they are from one another. He appeared in three films in 2015 and all three have mentions in my end of year round-up and they are all in the positive.
The only negative I have with the film is actually Marion Cotillard and her performance as Lady Macbeth. Unlike her on-screen husband, she is just never convincing in the role and I believe that she has been totally miscast here. Whilst she fits the role in a visual sense, she fails at being able to accurately represent the correct emotions needed within her character. Personally, I find this a shock to be saying because I believe that Cotillard is a phenomenal actress with a huge emotional range, but I guess even the best actors don't always fit every role.
Overall, I have only positive things to say about this new version of “Macbeth” and if by highlighting it here, it may convince someone to check the film out that they may not have normally done, than that is enough. Seriously though, if you get the chance, do yourself a favour and watch Justin Kurzel's “Macbeth”; it's a gloriously underrated (or under seen) film.