70%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)

Questionable directing decisions bog down what could be a tremendous, violent, and stunningly beautiful Shakespearian epic.


One of the many, many wonderful things about cinema is the idea that many different elements go into it, from the sound to the image, to the acting, to the costumes, and so forth. Because of this, it almost gives the audience a laundry-list of boxes to check off when viewing a piece of cinema when you think “alright I enjoy that.” This has led to people across all of film’s life liking different movies for different reasons from those of the buddy sitting next to them. Some people like Titanic for the larger-than-life set piece of the ship herself while others may watch for the performances by the two young leads. Others may love Citizen Kane for the visual tricks employed by master cinematographer Gregg Toland, while others pay closer attention to the themes of the story. Art is subjective, and everybody experiences art in completely different ways.

What I’m getting at with this is that Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth has many elements that are achievements in themselves, but the overall quality of the movie is bogged down considerably by another element. Can that be said about essentially any movie? Absolutely. But the disappointing thing about Macbeth is that the “good” elements are so incredibly obvious and so packed with potential that the “bad” elements getting in the way seem that much more significant. More on that in a moment.

Macbeth, the newest adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most recognized works, is a violent historical fairy tale directed by Australian auteur Justin Kurzel, whose last and first movie, The Snowtown Murders, premiered back in 2011. Most know Macbeth’s story, as we’ve almost all read it back in high school, but for those who see that kind of reading as “boring,” the story is a bloody one about a bloody and selfish regicide and the consequences of such. Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth opposite Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, both roles seem suspiciously fitting. Supporting characters include Paddy Considine as Banquo, David Thewlis as King Duncan, and Sean Harris as Macduff.

While there have been scores Shakespeare adaptations throughout the past century, each director approaches them with his or her own style, and Kurzel is no different. While Sir Lawrence Olivier pushed for performances and Kenneth Branaugh has stuck with grand set pieces and world-building, Kurzel here focused on more literally transitioning a stage play onto the screen. With the help of Adam Arkapaw’s jaw-dropping cinematography, the world of is lavish, colorful, and brooding at the same time, each and every single frame completely frameable in its own right. This cannot be understated: the visuals of Macbeth show tricks and moves I’ve never seen in a movie before, tricks of such an unbelievable beauty they easily lift the movie as a whole up to a pantheon of cinematic art in an entire league of itself. Hyperbole aside, Arkapaw’s work here is a complete achievement, showcasing Scotland’s lush, open landscape with soft fog rolling on over the horizon for miles, ambitious castle keeps with gorgeous sunlight pouring in through open windows draping over these characters dressed in opulent garb unmatched by anything this year. Every element of the photography, from the camera placement and movement to the super saturated color scheme, can only be described as a landmark in cinema. Match this with a tremendously brooding compositional score by the director’s younger brother Jed Kurzel, and you have a package of elegant beauty fitting enough for such a classic Shakespearian tale.

The package is a triumph until the actors begin to speak their lines. For some reason vastly beyond my own comprehension, Kurzel chose to have his actors speak this iconic dialogue almost at a whisper, and with a mumble that has the entire audience leaning a bit forward in their seats, one ear pointed directly at the scene. For dialogue so rich, so creative, and so legendary throughout literally centuries, you’d expect each and every line to be delivered with a gravitas that would make Olivier himself stagger back, but Fassbender, Cotillard, and the rest of the cast all sound like they’re alone on set with nobody with them but a tiny microphone dangling in front of them, brushing up against their lips. In some scenes, Macbeth sits sprawled out on his throne, crown tilted slightly atop his head, chin on his palm, looking like the court jester took the day off, and you can almost compare his attitude in that seat to the attitude of every character when opening their mouths. Macbeth isn’t a story you can put on as background noise while you vacuum the living room and still get what’s going on, you need to invest yourself into the world, emotionally, but I personally found it incredibly difficult here. There just wasn’t much connecting going on outside of ogling the absurdly rich photography. The problem isn’t even with the performances, as both Fassbender and Cotillard are stunning in their stage-like performances, showcasing the broad range of emotions absolutely crucial to any Shakespeare tale, but rather the decisions employed by Kurzel to keep dialogue way too intimate. Despite the camera oftentimes planted right in front of Lady Macbeth’s face as she delivers a monologue, it’s almost as if we’re constantly sitting right in front of the character as she tells herself a secret we aren’t meant to know. By the time the credits roll, I was stuck trying to recall more than two lines of memorable dialogue, but coming up empty. Even the “out, damned spot” monologue we’re accustomed to by now comes and goes on wistfully by despite us being present and in close proximity the entire time.

The whole thing is frustrating by the end, and I can’t help but knock the movie down considerably when the main draw of it comes off so poorly done, despite other elements being done so remarkably well. It begs the question of whether or not I’ll enjoy the movie more upon repeated viewings on home video, being able to fully explore the dialogue as it’s meant to be done, audibly. Despite the disturbing, incredible photography and the grandiose performances, it’s a bummer that the movie has to be so bogged down by what should have been very simple decisions on Kurzel’s part. I can’t help but recommend Macbeth for Arkapaw’s cinematography, but it is advised that you bring a hearing aid, or sit real close to the theater. O’, full of scorpions is my mind, dear Kurzel!


Directed By: Justin Kurzel

Produced by: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman

Written by: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, Todd Louiso

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

Release Date: December 4, 2015

Run Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.