By: Akram Shaban
When I first heard that Michael Fassbender was going to play Macbeth in Justin Kurzel’s cinematic adaptation of the play, I got very excited. When I found out that Marion Cotillard was going to be Lady Macbeth, the excitement grew larger. I would not call myself a fan of Shakespeare or plays in general, but Macbeth has always been a favorite of mine (if I were to choose). I had already read the play more than once and seen it in action as well. I know the story, and I quite enjoyed it from start to finish. This combination of beloved actors and a great story made the movie ripe enough to be a part of my own personal hype train. But as many of those proverbial trains tend to do, they malfunction and end up crashing and burning. By the end (after waking up from a short nap) I forced myself to look past its flaws and justify the 12 dollars (not including transit) to go and see it. But eventually, I had to face the truth. The movie is as boring as it is well made.
I’ll start with the acting. Fassbender and Cotillard delivered their lines beautifully. The supporting cast was not dull and did remind me of the characters from the play. I had only two main issues with the performances. The first are the accents, and the second is the volume. At first, I thought I was the only one who had trouble understanding what anyone was saying. After asking around, it turns out that several people have similar sentiments; The accents were a bit too thick. It became so difficult to discern the dialogue that subtitles would have sufficed. Had I not known the story beforehand, I would have left the theatre much more dissatisfied with the experience, as did one of my friends.
The second issue with the line delivery was volume. I could have sworn nobody spoke at a volume higher than slight whispering. It could have been the venue which screened it (it was a limited release), but I had to listen very intently, otherwise I would have missed a lot more lines. The combination of heavy accents and whisper level dialogue tones had me relying heavily on my knowledge of the story.
Speaking of the story, it was adapted in a very interesting and artistic manner. A lot of the movie was shot in low light, and it pulled it off beautifully. The lighting effects and wide shots of Scotland and England were beautiful. The environment and climate of the setting truly provided for a more immersive viewing experience. The costume design and makeup was also something to take note of. Exceptional attention to detail was put into both of these aspects. The most impressive implementation of these elements (in my view), was the ending sequence. The cast was engulfed in fiery red fog, and ash, making for a more intense climax. The atmosphere of the story is a strength in the film.
But, it’s boring. Most of the reason it wasn’t very exciting was the fact that it was difficult to tell what anyone was saying. Shakespearian English is not particularly the easiest text to understand, let alone decipher from speech. Additionally, while interesting, some of the direction choices were a little distracting. There may be a name for what I’m about to point out (perhaps our film school student readers can help me out here). At certain points throughout the film, the characters give monologues. During those monologues, they become disconnected from the scene, and appear as if they are speaking to the audience. Now in an actual play, the character would be on the stage alone, speaking towards the audience. But in the movie it looked out of place, with the clips cutting abruptly to the character standing in a stiff, motionless position, facing a different direction from the one they began with. For example, at one point Macbeth is in a tent delivering an internal monologue. Then suddenly, the clip was cut to him standing next to his personal dwelling, stiff and motionless, speaking aloud. I assumed we were being shown a visualization of Macbeth’s thoughts, but they were more distracting than anything.
Macbeth’s descent into madness was one of the most entertaining aspects of the film. Fassbender’s performance was very convincing. The feast scene where he hallucinates Banquo’s ghost was both cringe-worthy (in an intentional way) and comical. The scenes where Macbeth confines himself to his room and later goes to ride on his horse in his sleeping garments, all while the harsh Scottish winds are blowing against him, were marvelous to witness.
I can’t say the same of Lady Macbeth’s downward spiral. Cotillard did her best to do her monologues justice, but I believe it was more a flaw with the script. There needed to be more anxiety and panic in her, not dull, essentially monotone voice. It was at this point I believe my nap commenced.
Overall, the film is well made. Had I understood the dialogue better, the complaints would have been fewer. In the end, Macbeth failed to meet expectations, and thus receives a B- (7/10).