(Justin Kurzel, 2015)
To describe Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth as “Shakespeare as a graphic novel” would likely fend and draw audiences in equal measures, though the point of this write-up would be to highlight that perhaps its loud and kinetic visuals are not necessarily a bad thing.
Of course, “Shakespeare as a graphic novel featuring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard” would be a more accurate way of highlighting the visceral pleasures of Macbeth, which tends to be at its best when the two actors occupy the screen, together. The two broil in a caldron of carnality, certainly in contention for being the sexiest of Shakespeare pairings. In the pivotal sequence that sees Macbeth (Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Cotillard) plot to slay King Duncan (David Thewlis), the two are absolutely primal, lit in a flickering candlelit hut as their scheming unleashes a libidinous torrent.
It’s one of many scenes that highlight the different, more elemental, aspects of Justin Kurzel’s adaptation. He strips the play of its more outlandish, supernatural aspects, opting for something more primitive and bestial. Gone are the witches and their boiling caldron, instead replaced with siren overseers. The floating dagger that haunts Lady Macbeth is grounded in a more serene and haunting visage. And the humor of a moving forest gives way to embers of scorched scenery. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (season one of True Detective) is vital to the success of the film, who transitions from capturing the anxiety-ridden contours of Marion Cotillard’s face (no one takes a better close-up) to war-ready Michael Fassbender, uniting these contrasting images deftly. It’s a rich array of images that Kurzel and Arkapaw compose, though at times, most notably in the beginning of the picture, these stylistic embellishments are a bit too aggressive. Rooted within a Frank Miller visual aesthetic, the film’s initial war sequences are certain to make Shakespeare enthusiasts anxious, though these troublesome passages are short-lived, ultimately translating the Bard’s work into something more lascivious, giving free reign to Cotillard and Fassbender to sex it up.