By Val (Sydney, Australia)


Had the misfortune to see a preview of this stinker. Why do film directors (and often play producers) seem to think they are smarter than Shakespeare? Shakespeare had three witches – we got three and a half. Shakespeare wrote a brilliant and seminal speech for the witches (“Double, double…”), but that just gets wiped. The complex psychology of the relationship between the Macbeths and the mental decline of each of them is also brushed off.

It is hard to know if Australian director Justin Kurzel is a smart-arse or just a fool. Or is he cleverly catering to the dumbing down which is so popular these days – after all, how many kids study Shakespeare at school these days? How many adults attend live theatre? There was a brilliant Australian production of Macbeth about 10 years go, where the setting was transposed to Melbourne’s gangland but the text remained intact. That production sank without trace. Go figure.

Kurzel certainly showed signs of being a very sick puppy in his other, film The Snowtown Murders. Here, he just wallows in it for what seemed like days but was in fact two very long hours. Shakespeare mostly evoked violence offstage by his brilliant words. Kurzel serves up gratuitous and graphic sadism and gore in great gobs. He appears to be obsessed with (a) loving close-ups of slashed throats and (b) arson, including plenty of funeral pyres and burnings at the stake. Shakespeare cleverly and clearly tells us how Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane, but to Kurzel it’s just an excuse for yet another huge fire. It isn’t cute or clever or interesting – I really think he needs a good shrink.

It might have been a good idea to set it in ancient Scotland, and visually it is quite beautiful, if bleak – when the director lets us see it through the smoke – but Kurzel lays it on so thick for the dummies that it’s like a parody – you expect Harry Lauder to appear dancing the highland fling and singing ‘aboot braw bricht nichts’. As a result, most of the cast speak in impenetrable Scottish accents, made worse by the fuzzy sound track and incessant background drone of, of course, bagpipes. It is a kind of aural equivalent of trying to see them through the smoke of Kurzel’s ridiculous conflagrations. Still, perhaps it isn’t all bad; a least it obscures some of Kurzel’s rape of the text. As well as most of the dramatized personae, if not in scenes worthy of any B splatter movie, the play itself is thoroughly battered, impaled and eviscerated.

And as rotten as these scenes are, somebody made the ghastly mistake of telling Kurzel about slow motion and the battle and murder sequences where he can indulge his obvious taste for nastiness are further degraded by jejune and pretentious slow motion sequences, often of soldiers hacking one another to pieces in, to add further insult, silhouette. It is film-making that would have earned him an F in film school, although one wonders if he ever attended such.

As though relying on the accents and murk and noise to hide them, most of the actors are abysmal but our stars Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard as his wife have no such excuses. Perhaps they were constipated or perhaps they hated what was happening a much as I did, or maybe the egregious Kurzel instructed them to act in a way that would complement his obvious ambition utterly to turn this great drama into video game: “Macbeth for Morons.”. As Dorothy Parker said of Katherine Hepburn, these two (who should know better) delivered “a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B.” In this case the acting of both ranges from wooden to just plain stupid. To anybody unfamiliar with the play, it would be impossible to understand their relationship, their motivations and, indeed, their actions.

Shame on everybody responsible for and associated with this travesty. I saw it for free and feel I was grossly overcharged. Save your money and your backside and give this turkey a big miss.



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