– by David Morgan-Brown
It’s rather hard to tell what Shakespeare himself would think of the film adaptations of his own work. For someone who never even knew about the medium of film, he might’ve thought his work should stick to the stage. But that presumptuous claim hasn’t stopped filmmakers adapting his plays into films since the birth of cinema (his first credit on IMDb being for a Macbeth “filmed play” in 1898). Now we have another version of The Tragedy of Macbeth (with the likes of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski who have previously adapted this play), one that isn’t too modern and isn’t too archaic, though seems to do nothing to embellish what’s so great about the source material.
Set in Scotland, our main man Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) uses brutish violence to climb his way up the political ladder, egged on by his wife (Marion Cortillard). But just when he thinks he can get away from these injustices, his conscience catches up to him, turning him into the paranoid king of Scotland. There’s a reasonable chunk of the play changed or flat-out excised, and it makes the adaptation much more rigid and overall less fun than the source material. Some of the loonier parts towards the end of the play worked because they emphasised Macbeth’s 15th century paranoia, but that aspect of his psyche here seems rather limp.
The main issue with the film is that, for all its impressive cinematic qualities, it feels dreadfully one-note throughout. There’s only one emotion expressed throughout the whole film – overly-serious. This film can’t help but feel like its own drama only goes to service itself rather than the audience.
The dialogue is a barely audible prose-like stream of consciousness that barely moves the story, emotions, or film at all. It’s theatrical on a cinema stage, but it’s wasted when most of the dialogue is obscured by mumbled, old-fashioned dialect that is usually of no concern for any story-following audience member. Marion Cortillard is given equally rubbish dialogue as everyone else to work with, but her role in this film is at least more interesting to watch than Fassbender’s Macbeth, as her own handling of her conscience is slightly more multifaceted and evokes a larger range of emotions and reactions.
The cinematography (which likely had more work go into it than any other aspect of the film) is suitably one-coloured to echo the film’s mood, but does look good at times, especially some of the red-tinged shots towards the end. The technical structure of the film is impressive, and it knows it is, yet it doesn’t come together to create a compelling scene of drama, nor a thrilling scene of action.
Macbeth is, from start to finish, a dull, dire, drole, deadpan dreg of a film, soaring high to nab all possible awards (‘tis the season), all the while cutting out what makes the original story so enthralling. Technically showey, with not much to show, this new rendition of the popular play has nothing new to contribute, but plenty to detract.