Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The basic outline of the story remains. MacBeth is told by witches he will become king of Scotland, and at the urging of his wife, he murders King Duncan (David Thewlis) and usurps the throne, setting off a bloody chain of events that leads the new tyrant to madness and his downfall.
If you're looking for a faithful adaptation, look elsewhere. Much of Shakespeare's dialogue, especially for the supporting characters such as the true heir Malcolm (Jack Reynor) and even the witches (now made up of three women, a girl, and a baby for some reason), has been removed or otherwise re-arranged. It doesn't help that most of the actors deliver their lines with harsh, hushed whispering, making it all but incomprehensible. I've read the play and seen many versions of it, but I struggled to follow this one, and when I could follow along, I was annoyed by the seemingly random changes made by adaptors Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso. Under two hours in length, MacBeth feels choppy.
The climax hints at the film's larger problem. Watching MacBeth and MacDuff, I couldn't tell them apart; Fassbender and Harris are both buried beneath beards, dirt, and armor, and the camera is rarely steady enough to follow the action. As nice and as atmospheric some of the shots in the movie are, from the sweeping Scottish hills and the eerie coastline beneath Dunsinane, director Justin Kurzel uses a handheld camera during too many scenes, including normal conversation, and as the camera dips and bobs, it becomes distracting. During the action scenes, Kurzel uses a shaky camera buried in the sea of fighters, utilizing slow motion to focus on graphic wounds, and it becomes hard to follow except for the various closeups of stabbings and slashings.
The joy and poetry of Shakespeare are bled out by this MacBeth.