Presumably we all know the plot of Shakespeare’s Scottish play: Macbeth is an inspiring leader until his own greed and ambition (and – let’s face it – his wife’s) bring him low, low, low, low.
Justin Kurzel’s interpretation is full of striking imagery, some of it colder than I would have thought, some of it feeling a little empty. But we all know we’re really here for the two powerhouse (king-making?) performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
Fassbender was the first on board; Kurzel was selected to complement his style, and both wanted Cotillard for Lady M. Cotillard, you may have noticed, or gleaned from her name, is a French actress, and a rather good one. Language is no barrier to her here; the Shakespeare rolls off her tongue. But they have nonetheless kept her French accent, a rare choice. Shakespeare never specified Lady Macbeth’s provenance, though it’s usually presumed she’s Scottish liked bloody everyone else. But in this adaptation, she’s got this slight sense of foreignness and we begin to think what it might be like if she was just a little outside the community to begin with. Where exactly does her allegiance lie?
Fassbender makes Macbeth look easy, and it’s nothing of the sort. He communicates tonnes even with long stretches of silence between lines. The eerie, synthetic music is not always welcome, but you do sometimes get the sense that maybe style is valued slightly over substance. And the movie certainly begs the question: is it okay to re-write Shakespeare? Because while I’d say Kurzel stays 90-95% faithful to the source, 5% is still cheating, isn’t it? The world hardly needed yet another Macbeth adaptation, so if you’re going to the trouble, you’d better have something new to say. But who is brave enough to believe they can best the bard? Justin Kurzel, evidently, a young director of just one prior movie, which I’d never heard of before. And there are three writer’s names in the credits, 3 brazen takers of liberty. Are they right? Can you take liberties with Shakespeare? Will the audience accept it? Forgive it?
Fassbender and Cotillard’s take on the first couple of power and greed (this was before Kim and Kanye) is pretty exceptional. She comes off as having a thing for bad boys, and he’s trying very hard to live up to her fetish. But it’s clear he isn’t as strong as she is. She is the driving force. Lady Macbeth has always been the one to watch, and Cotillard has always been eminently watchable. But then, having relished playing Dr. Frankenstein, she suddenly feels guilty for having created the monster. They’re a couple of complex characters, perhaps the best ever written, and if there are indeed actors worthy of them, these two come close.