Shakespeare on screen often fails spectacularly. The typical mistake is in not reconceiving the story to the new media. In this latest version of the Scottish play, the writers and director were unafraid to rethink key moments and even the order of some things to help the story. By doing so they make some of the most problematic scenes feel possible rather than absurd or “staged” for effect.
Michael Fassbender (Frank) and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) as the climbing couple of Medieval times work wonderfully together. Cotillard’s motivations and weaknesses, Fassbender’s as well, are set up fascinatingly in the silent, opening scene that director Kurzel prepended to the known action (or was set by screenwriters Koskoff and Lesslie). It is a wonderful stroke of storytelling, uncommented on after it occurs, but it sticks with you. The three creatives come together again for next year’s Assassin’s Creed, also staring Fassbender, peaking my curiosity for that upcoming bit of pure entertainment.
In smaller, important roles, Paddy Considine (World’s End), David Hayman (The Paradise), David Thewlis (Total Eclipse), Sean Harris (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), and Elizabeth Debicki (Man from UNCLE) create a wonderfully strong cast.
Macbeth is one of the darkest bits of Shakespeare that still resonates today. In fact, it is even revitalized in this version, despite being done in period. This particular conception of the story will join other recent Shakespeare adaptations, such as The Tempest, who are bringing these plays of human foibles into the present without losing their original intent and experience. It is certainly for a specific taste and mood, but the film is worth your time when you’re ready.