January 19, 2016
Much like its leads, Macbeth is pretty to look at, but struggles to find any life within the language, so that- in spite of its stunning cinematography and spurts of narrative invention, the Scottish play makes for a very turgid Scottish film.
The wonder of cinema acts as a wet rag wiped across a steaming surface, giving off blasts of visual life to a story that, here, feels every one of its 417 years.
Production designer Fiona Crombie vividly captures the aesthetic of the time, yet- though its corrupt, superstitious and power-hungry men mope about dripping with the blood, sweat and tears of warriors, there is no passion or drive to them. The movie seems to take the deadening effect that constant warfare has on the soul and slaughters the verse with it.
There is simply no character development. Mumbling the words to themselves in a self aggrandizing manner, the players make them inaudible and trivial, aiming for naturalism but getting stuck in a self-absorbed rut. (With the exception for Sean Harris’s Macduff, whose phlegm flinging histrionics are the source of the movies only comic moments. Although considering they occur when he finds out his family have been butchered, I presume they weren’t supposed to read that way).
Lady M’s words drive her husband to murder in the play. A quick ride screws his courage to the sticking place here, which is indicative of how reductive she’s become. Cotillard reads the lines in a voice that is dead behind her made-up eyes. Even though we are repeatedly hammered with imagery of dead children, it’s unclear what her motivations are, based on her delivery.
Since a brooding naturalism was the playing style of choice it should come as no surprise that nothing of consequence is done with the ‘weird sisters’. But it’s still a crushing loss for a film so enthrall to its own machismo, and only David Hayman- as Lennox, comes out with anything close to memorable.
This is because director Justin Kurzel takes a show, don’t tell, approach, gutting the text and explicitly visualising the motivations of the characters. Worse, everyone involved acts like they know the ending of the story from the very beginning, so it lacks thrust.
Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is tourist board pornography and Kurzel fetishes it, so that at times it feels as if we are being held hostage inside a hill-walkers view-master. And while the opening battle is a bloody, flesh tearing bacchanal- and Macbeth’s barbarism is amply displayed in his treatment of Lady MacDuff and her children- the movie rarely gives us enough time to soak the tragedy of all this in. Rather it potters on at its dismal pace, drowning in its own pretensions.
The decision to illustrate the bard’s word, instead of investigating them, siphons out the atmosphere and the drama, so all we’re left with is an empty drum echoing Jed Kurzel’s incessant score.