William Shakespeare's Macbeth is my favorite tragedy by the Bard. It's fleet, to the point and bloody cathartic. It has proven to be good fodder for adaptation by cinematic greats such as Roman Polanski, Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles, among countless others, I'm sure. Shakespeare's characteristically ambiguous staging has lent itself to all kinds of interpretations, with a recent production starring Patrick Stewart in a particularly inspired 20th century military setting. Macbeth is also one of the more palatable plays by Shakespeare, given its brevity and streamlined narrative.
When I had heard that Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were cast in the lead roles in Justin Kurzel's film adaptation, I was stoked. Fassbender is quickly becoming the most interesting young actor to watch, and Cotillard has proven herself to be inimitably flexible as an actress. With a supporting cast filled out by David Thewlis and Paddy Considine, Kurzel's Macbeth was shaping up to be something truly special.
Alas, 2015's Macbeth is not quite special, other than the fact that it is incredibly slow, to make a bad joke. Kurzel eschews the rapid-fire momentum pacing of the play in favor of meditative, ponderous battle scenes, at least at first. Thankfully, his cinematographer, Adam Arkapaw, makes liberal use of brilliant color during these scenes, rendering them hypnotic in their brutality. But the explosive start to the story, the events of which are relayed mainly through dialogue between minor characters is made literal. We witness Macbeth in the throes of war, slaying his enemies as he is clad in Braveheart-esque war paint. This may sound exciting, but Kurzel can't resist including pointless shot after shot of Fassbender glowering directly into the camera as Jed Kurzel's score drones in the background. What should be thrilling is instead soporific.
None of this is helped by the actors' infuriating tendency towards naturalistically pronouncing their dialogue, which may work in a kitchen-sink British film, but certainly does not fit Shakespeare. Only Kenneth Branagh is able to direct actors to speak their Shakespeare in a normal-sounding fashion, but they at least enunciate their lines.
Fassbender is particularly to blame here, as he is weirdly given towards mumbling, in spite of his demonstrated facility with complicated speech in Steve Jobs. Cotillard acquits herself the best here, inescapable French accent notwithstanding. The scene in which she, as Lady Macbeth, finally loses her mind before committing suicide is a masterclass of control, as it is shot in medium-closeup in a single take. Cotillard tears up in perfect sync with the most wrenching parts of her speech.
I did not think myself terribly tired at the outset of the film; I was seeing it in an Arclight theater, after all, which is thus far my first and only experience with the impressive cinema chain. But no amount of terrific service and gorgeous facilities could make Macbeth much more than a pretty-to-look-at slog. My fiancée even walked out of the film, preferring to squander $17 or more on a ticket and an Uber ride. And she hates wasting money.