Movie review: Macbeth

“Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth”.

This prophecy that no human being can harm the titular character, applies just as well to Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s adaptation. Bloody, bold and resolute, Kurzel’s Macbeth also is, and, we dare say, a sure contender for next year’s Academy Awards.

For those who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, it tells the story of the noble Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), a Thane or Scottish lord, who is approached by 3 witches prophesying that he’ll be King of Scotland. Spurred by his vanity and the power lust of his wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), he murders the king, King Duncan (David Thewlis) to claim the throne for himself.


Retaining the language, which may prove challenging to viewers who haven’t studied the texts and don’t listen to Scottish accents much, the already dark Shakespearean play takes an even darker turn in this film noir-esque war drama. And much like Akira Kurosawa’s Japanese Macbeth adaptation, Throne of Blood, and Roman Polanski’s gruesome retelling, Kurzel’s Macbeth is fitting for modern cinema – brooding, visceral, and so, very real.

It is probably because of this need to stay connected to mainstream audiences that this version stripped the play down to its bones. Some parts that didn’t translate well from stage to screen (like the iconic “Double, double, toil and trouble” spell) were scrapped, and fresh elements were transplanted into the script (like the death of the Macbeths’ child).


Macbeth is evidence that potential can be dug out of anything; even over-analyzed 400-year-old plays get a good ol’ 21st century ‘welcome back’.

Cotillard and Fassbender deliver compelling performances of the complex couple with their rousing on-screen presence that was strong enough to carry the movie. In particular, Cotillard’s stunning rendition of the stoic, manipulative Lady Macbeth’s renowned sleepwalking soliloquy has to be the first of its kind we’ve seen. In another bold move, Lady Macbeth delivers the soliloquy uninterrupted in full consciousness on the floor of a wooden chapel shrouded in a pristine, white robe. She wasn’t frantic or angry; she was simply a woman coming apart at the seams, with no idea how to stop it. Cotillard brings her classically languid elegance, which was obvious in Nine and Inception, to the screen, putting on what’s one of the most nuanced performances of the scene possibly to date.


With a film adaptation comes the privilege of CGI and cinematography (which was well done by Adam Arkapaw, whom Kurzel worked with for his debut film, Snowtown), and we’re proud to declare that Kurzel made the best of his medium. The scene in which Macbeth’s army defeats the renegade Thane of Cawdor is drawn out over a blissful – almost dreamlike – half slow motion sequence. Reminiscent of Braveheart’s chaotic battle of Stirling Bridge, Macbeth’s battle sequence boasts gratuitous violence intercut with Macbeth’s dissociation in the middle of the battlefield.

Stills from the film 'Macbeth' 2014.  Directed by Justin Kurzel, DoP Adam Arkapaw. Produced by Iain Canning, Laura Hastings-Smith & Emile Sherman Unit stills Photography by Jonathan Olley

That said, we really didn’t appreciate the subplot of Macbeth’s lost child, if it could even be called a subplot. Despite possibly serving as an instigator of Macbeth’s desire to not only kill the King, but also his bloodline, we couldn’t help but think it was shoehorned into the movie for the sake of drawing sympathy for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It gave the characters a touch of humanity and makes their ultimate downfall even more agonizing to watch, but was not impactful as the opening for a film such as this. The scene was poignant and unsettlingly calm, and so beautifully shot, but we thought this was one aspect Kurzel should’ve stuck to the text.

Macbeth is incredibly finely tuned, polished and self-contained. What would be expected to be a too-tight play-by-play is actually an inspired reinterpretation, which explains it was one of the contenders for the Palme d’Or at the 68th Cannes Film Festival. Sit back and let Shakespeare’s work do the rest.


Rating: ★★★★☆



Release Date: 26 November 2015

Runtime: 113 minutes

Language: English

Rating: NC16

Genre: Drama, War

Director: Justin Kurzel

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, Jack Reynor