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Macbeth' full of sound and fury

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Shakespearean adaptation beautiful, intense

Few film experiences are bigger crapshoots than Shakespearean adaptations. Sure, Shakespeare's plays are among the greatest works in literary history, but the unfortunate truth is that those works don't always translate from stage to screen particularly well. Some have absolutely been great, but others have fallen flat.

Basically, if you mess with the Bard, you might get burned.

On the flip side, when the risk pays off as it does with Justin Kurzel's breathtakingly visceral 'Macbeth' the end result is a hauntingly beautiful, dramatically intense moviegoing experience.

For those unfamiliar with the classic tale, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender, 'Steve Jobs') is an 11th-century thane of Scotland, a warrior of great skill and prowess. When he and his close friend Banquo (Paddy Considine, 'Child 44') are approached by three mysterious, magical women on the field of battle, they are offered a prophecy a prophecy that predicts Macbeth will soon become the King of Scotland.

Driven by this prophecy, Macbeth and his wife (Marion Cotillard, 'The Little Prince') hatch a plot in which through bravado and bloodshed, Macbeth can ascend to the throne. His rise comes at the expense of not only King Duncan (David Thewlis, 'The Theory of Everything') and his son Malcolm (Jack Reynor, 'A Royal Night Out'), but of some of those closest to Macbeth as well.

There is resistance, most prominently from Macduff (Sean Harris, 'Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation'), to Macbeth's rule a rule marked with the new king's tendency toward guilt-driven self-destruction and a dark obsession with the witches' prophecies prophecies that offer some promises that Macbeth would rather not see kept.

(In the interest of full disclosure, it feels strange to be synopsizing Shakespeare. This plot summary feels both woefully insufficient and overly detailed to me; if you feel strongly one way or the other, all I can say is 'I'm sorry.')

'Macbeth' is one of the greatest of Shakespeare's tragedies, a powerful exploration of the corruptive influence of power and how it affects those upon whom it is thrust. The rich language and depth of character is simply breathtaking on the page and on the stage, but what could these filmmakers bring to the process to make the tale truly shine on-screen?

Quite a lot, as it turns out.

'Macbeth' is one of the most visually stunning films of the year. Through brilliant use of color and pace, Kurzel has created a deeply visceral and period-specific take on the Scottish play. From the alternating fast/slow shots on the battlefield (the battle scenes that bookend the film are absolutely incredible) to the quiet intimacy between man and wife to the soliloquies of a king to a climax built on fire and blood, Kurzel has captured the spirit of the piece in a mesmerizing and incredibly intense fashion.

He does this, by the way, while still staying true to Shakespeare's text. There are some cuts there will ALWAYS be some cuts (unless you're Kenneth Branagh) but they're all done in the service of streamlining the story. The melody of Shakespeare's language doesn't often shine in film adaptations, but here, it burns brighter than bright.

As you might expect, 'Macbeth' asks a lot of the actor filling the shoes of the titular character. It's one of the most demanding roles out there particularly when you take into account the fact that Kurzel has brought so much of the offstage action onto the screen. That being said, it's hard to imagine a better choice than Michael Fassbender. He's at the peak of his powers right now, an absolutely tremendous actor with the ability to create subtlety and bombast with equal ease. His Macbeth is an imposing presence throughout, even as he fractures under the weight of his past choices. Between this and 'Steve Jobs,' one could argue that no actor had a better 2015 than Fassbender.

There's plenty to like in the supporting cast as well. Lady Macbeth is one of the most interesting of Shakespeare's female characters, a seemingly straightforward role that in actuality contains far more nuance than it is usually credited with. Cotillard is brilliant, standing astride the line between love and ambition; a powerhouse performance is required when standing next to someone like Fassbender and she gives one. Considine's sad-eyed Banquo is compelling to watch, while Harris plays Macduff with a wildly impassioned and thrilling sense of loyalty.

Any lover of Shakespeare will be captivated by 'Macbeth,' but one doesn't need to be a fan to enjoy the film. It is a powerful and universal story, one told through beautiful language, stunning visuals and exquisite performances.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 18:22

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