Directed by Justin Kurzel (2015)
by Sandy DeVito
How this movie wasn't up for any major awards this past awards season flabbergasts me. It's without a doubt not only one of the finest films of 2015, but one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare ever put to film. With a countless number of screen versions of the bard's great works, this is no small statement. And I was absolutely floored.
Macbeth is Thane of Glamis (a nobleman who owned land granted by the government) to the King of Scotland. Our stage opens on a group of witches (traditionally, a trio, like the great trio of the maiden, mother and crone, but in this version joined by a small girl as well, an interesting adjustment that is one of many thought-provoking and intensely creative visual flourishes in this version, including placing the witches themselves on the edge of the battlefield), prophesying that Macbeth will be king himself before long, yet their words are tinged with dark tidings as well. Spurred by his own desire for power and the equally strong ambitions of his wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard, subdued compared to other interpretations of the role), he sets out on a path of destruction from whence there can be no redemption. Regarding tales that warn against the lust for power, this is one of the greats, but Justin Kurzel has managed somehow to make the oldest of stories striking and visceral again, like the blast of a cold wind on the moors, or the searing heat of a hearth fire. Shot after shot I was entranced by the lyrical and deeply dark nature of the visuals here, from the madness of a bloody battlefield, to shrouded forms lit by a great, horrible fire, even the golden halo of sunlight through the hanging folds of tents.
Michael Fassbender is an inspired choice for the titular betrayer, his intensity of rage as well as madness or despair displayed here to great effect. Fassbender is one of the great actors of this generation, and the body of work he's building is making this almost impossible to dispute. There are few who can command your attention with such weighted presence, especially when the scene calls for non-verbal communication. He's how you imagine the great heroes of old stories, like Achilles or Odysseus, but placing him in morally neutral roles is where he really gets a chance to show off every nuance of his ability. Combined with Justin Kurzel's breathtaking dirge of a film, this is one of the more moving and memorable visual experiences I've had recently.
If this film is anything to recommend him, Kurzel is one of most interesting and atypical new filmmakers of our time. I'm very interested to see what else he can do.