With the amount of times any story has been re-told, be it a “re-imagining”, “re-boot”, or whatever term is bolted on, it’s nice to see that some things never change about the cinema experience.
There will always be a “re-telling” of an old story, in the same way that adverts on the big screen will always be the usual rubbish about cars being spaceships or the saviour of small, snow-covered villages in the mountains. I swear, you could make a world-renowned stand-up routine by sitting down with the minds responsible for those ads and asking them:
“Don’t you think a potato is aerodynamic?”
Awful commercials aside, the latest “re-envisioning” of Macbeth had me intrigued; although I’ve seen several of Shakespeare’s plays on stage, I had never read or experienced Macbeth before. I admit, with a relatively new director in Justin Kurzel, my faith lay almost exclusively with Michael Fassbender to blow my socks off. Reviews around the board being overwhelmingly positive (90% on Rotten Tomatoes is nothing to sniff at), surely something had to, right?
Well, to put it bluntly, no. It was a decent film, but I don’t think I would rush to see it again any time soon. Why so? Let’s start with the good.
What did Macbeth get right?
Namely the setting, dialogue and physical acting. With source material like Shakespeare it baffles me when anyone wants to see the story in a modern setting (especially with the original dialogue), but thankfully this does not stoop so low. The cast was well chosen, all giving an emotional and powerful weight to their scenes, whilst remaining very distinct and true to their characters (again, from my limited knowledge of the play).
Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth) shone during their descent into madness, albeit with a minor stumble in the choice to display Lady Macbeth as very detached when reaching her pinnacle. I’ve always been a fan of the louder, more outspoken breakdown. Sean Harris’ (Macduff) grief at the murder of his family is almost tangible, and Paddy Considine’s (Banquo) dead-eyed stare from beyond the grave is mesmerising.
Now we come to the bad things about Macbeth.
Have you noticed the pattern made with all I’ve said so far? Macbeth is as bleak as a dress shirt without Dazz in the wash.
Herein lies the film’s first problem; not that it’s a depressing film, but rather that there is simply no break from the heavy atmosphere, almost lulling the susceptible to sleep. From what I understand Macbeth is not a pleasant play, and no, I’m not suggesting the employment of Mr. Blobby as intermission entertainment. The point is that, even with a miserable story, the audience needs variation in order to fully appreciate those dark moments. After seeing the film I was told that there is indeed a comic relief character in the play to serve this role – the Porter. With this absence there are no changes in tone, and so within the first 20 minutes everyone is almost brain-dead with melancholy.
The other main fault is admittedly much more personal (or at least I don’t think most will be bothered by it). Despite fantastic physical performances, with mad expressions and powerful cries of loss, I found myself unable to detect much, if any emotion in the delivery of the lines. Usually this would not be so noticeable, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure why this bothered me so much that it nearly ruined the experience. I just couldn’t ignore that most, if not all of the lines were said in such a monotone that it gave the impression of the actors having no clue what they were saying.
The lack of emotion gave the jarring view that the lead characters were either made of metal, or had no idea of what emotion to convey at any particular time. Again, I have to stress that this was only for the vocal delivery; the expressions and mannerisms of the cast were fantastic and truly expressive. Sadly however, this only served to highlight the monotonous delivery even more. Perhaps this could be due to comparing the delivery of stage actors to film actors, as obviously on stage nothing matters more than the vocal delivery? Either way, thankfully this doesn’t quite spoil the picture, and only truly poses a problem to people as odd as myself.
To summarise, Macbeth is still an enjoyable experience, with some beautiful shots, fantastic physical performances and a time-tested story. There are some very frustrating downsides which stop it from reaching the heights some are placing it, but I feel that it’s mostly just me being a stick in the mud.
To sign off, I’d like to suggest a game to play while watching. I know that it’s used to emphasise blood, but take a note of every time you see the colour red in most of the screen. Now decide on a forfeit to take when that happens. If you decide to drink anything stronger than Coke, don’t hold me responsible for the finale. Seriously, just to warn you, it either looks like the middle of a biased Holi festival, or Macbeth decided that he’d rather fight on Mars to up the ante.