Macbeth is a Near Perfect Adaptation, but Still Comes Up Short
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
Screenplay by: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso
Based on: Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis
Running time 113 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal bloody violence including disturbing images.
After winning a decisive batter for King Dunchan (David Thewlis), Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and his friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) encounter three witches who greet Macbeth as a Thane of Cawdor and future King, and Banquo as a father of Kings. Shortly after this startling encounter, a messenger from the king arrived to bestow upon Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor, in honor of his victory. Macbeth writes to his wife, the Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), to tell her of the unusual prophecy, and the subsequent fulfillment of it in part. This news inflames the imagination of the Lady Macbeth, who devices a plot to assassinate the king with her husband, when King Dunchan spends the night with them. Malcom (Jack Reynor), the current heir to the throne, discovers Macbeth’s bloody execution but Macbeth threatens, and frames Malcom for the murder forcing Malcom to flee to England. The Lady Macbeth plants the murder weapons on the sleeping guards outside the King’s tent for Macduff (Sean Harris) to discover in the morning. With the king dead, and Malcom in hiding the crown passes to Macbeth, but Banquo and Macduff both suspect him. As Macbeth grows increasingly paranoid, he orders the murder of his friend Banquo and his family. As Macbeth and his wife slip further into madness, Macduff abandons Macbeth to find Malcom in England even as Macbeth orders the murder of Macduff and his family. Macduff escapes the attempted assassination and joins Malcom in England where they amass an army to overthrow Macbeth who has become a tyrant.
Film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays are far more common than most would believe, although most take the shape of reinterpretations, or take imaginative liberties. Macbeth is a traditional presentation of the original work, in its original setting. The few creative liberties involved trimming scenes to reduce the overall runtime and enhance the rapidly paced film, and artistic license with translating the minimal stage direction to the screen. From the perspective of a transfer from one performance medium to another, this adaptation is magnificent, much like Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. For one of the more notoriously difficult plays I could not be much happier with this film. However, I have a few issues that may give some aficionados of the Bard’s work pause.
The largest issue I have is with the omission of several minor scenes, which include some beautiful dialogue. These omissions, as I said previously, I believe were made to ensure the pace of the film ran smoothly from beginning to end, and that the runtime was not overly long. This was disheartening to me, but I understand this choice, and I am willing to accept it and not hold an oversize shoulder chip. The second issue I have, with I will hold against the final product, is the sedate tone of the film. This tone does not meet the standard of the original work, the height of the tragic drama feels underwhelming, the emotions too reserved. This may be an artifact of the medium of film, which plays to the front row, instead of to the back, but I simply did not feel the heart pounding agony I should have when Macbeth uttered “Out, out, brief candle!” or when Lady Macbeth shouted “Out damn spot!” These scenes were beautiful, and the performances outstanding, but it was like watching a Ferrari drive by at 20 miles per hour. That may be the best way I can describe this film, beautiful, masterfully engineered, and expertly driven, but unjustifiably reserved.