Macbeth reviews

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Precious Doll
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Re: Macbeth reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Sat May 23, 2015 5:48 am

From Variety (no back handed compliments in this rave)

Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender excel in Justin Kurzel's thrillingly savage interpretation of the Scottish Play.

Guy Lodge
Film Critic

As the shortest, sharpest and most stormily violent of William Shakespeare’s tragedies, “Macbeth” may be the most readily cinematic: The swirling mists of the Highlands, tough to fabricate in a theater, practically rise off the printed page. So it’s odd that, while “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet” get dusted off at least once a generation by filmmakers, the Scottish Play hasn’t enjoyed significant bigscreen treatment since Roman Polanski’s admirable if tortured 1971 version. The wait for another may be even longer after Justin Kurzel’s scarcely improvable new adaptation: Fearsomely visceral and impeccably performed, it’s a brisk, bracing update, even as it remains exquisitely in period. Though the Bard’s words are handled with care by an ideal ensemble, fronted by Michael Fassbender and a boldly cast Marion Cotillard, it’s the Australian helmer’s fervid sensory storytelling that makes this a Shakespeare pic for the ages — albeit one surely too savage for the classroom.

No viewer familiar with Kurzel’s blistering 2011 debut, “The Snowtown Murders” — an unflinching true-crime drama that doubled as a rich essay on destructive masculine insecurities — should be too surprised that he’s chosen to enter the mainstream by reviving one of the English language’s most unforgiving studies in malignant male ego. Meanwhile, any fears that the director’s poetically severe style might be mollified by the tony demands of traditionally rooted prestige cinema are allayed by the opening reel. As a stark, stonily beautiful shot of an infant’s funeral segues into a combat sequence of bruising, heightened viciousness, it becomes clear that Kurzel, as well as screenwriters Todd Louiso, Michael Lesslie and Jacob Koskoff, have not taken a timid approach to their source material — either at a stylistic or interpretive level.

What is perhaps most striking about this introduction — the incantations of the Weird Sisters that begin the play have been relocated — is how wordless it is. Adam Arkapaw’s camera probes the anguished geography of human faces as they ritualistically prepare for battle or burial: Macbeth himself is first seen as a steaming, heaving, near-alien warrior, his human countenance given up to smeary, demonic war paint.

A carnal battle cry finally breaks the silence; the armies of Macbeth and the traitorous Macdonwald charge and collide in silvery slow-motion, while composer Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother) amplifies the tribal percussion to nerve-fraying extremes. (As in “Snowtown,” the sound design is set at a needlingly low, industrial hum throughout.) It’s a technique seemingly made redundant by Zack Snyder’s “300” and its legion of imitators, yet Kurzel plays it more as brutal shadow theater, connoting the dehumanizing effects of mass slaughter without disregarding the collective cost of death. In visualizing trauma usually left offstage, Kurzel builds vital psychological context for the future King of Scotland’s bloody path to glory and dishonor.

What is seen, and by whom, emerges as the key consideration of Louiso, Lesslie and Koskoff’s respectfully inventive overhaul of the play. (Louiso, director of the U.S. indies “Love Liza” and “Hello I Must Be Going,” is hardly an expected name for this assignment, though he and his co-scribes exhibit a keen collective ear for the human nub of Shakespeare’s more expansive verse.) Crucial incidents are here given witnesses that shift the narrative tension, not to mention the balance of moral accountability, in provocative, constructively questionable ways. Young heir to the throne Malcolm (a fine, full-hearted Jack Reynor) catches Macbeth crimson-handed after the murder of King Duncan (David Thewlis), before fleeing in a youthful failure of nerve. Later, in an equivalent, particularly inspired adjustment, Lady Macbeth is made a witness to the public killing of Lady Macduff (Elizabeth Debicki) and her children; this callous wasting of a family makes a cruel mockery of her failure to create one.

The absence of Macbeth’s own heir, obliquely alluded to in Shakespeare’s text, is here made a more explicit point of anxiety for the couple — beginning with the lifeless child of that chill-inducing opening frame. Their joint power lust is made to seem a grievously unhappy displacement therapy for loss; in a play that already doesn’t want for uncanny visitations, quiet visions of her offspring return to our hero’s hand-scrubbing Queen at her most disoriented and guilt-ridden.

A plum role for any actress, Lady Macbeth proves an exhilaratingly testing one for Cotillard, whose gifts as both a technician and an emotional conduit apparently know no linguistic barrier. Streaked with unearthly blue eye shadow — Jenny Shircore’s daring makeup designs are a constant marvel — and working in a cultivated Anglo-Continental accent that positions the character even more pointedly as a stranger in her own court, Cotillard electrically conveys misdirected sexual magnetism, but also a poignantly defeated sense of decency. It’s a performance that contains both the woman’s abandoned self and her worst-case incarnation, often in the space of a single scene. Her deathless sleepwalking scene, staged in minimalist fashion under a gauze of snowflakes in a bare chapel, is played with tender, desolate exhaustion; it deserves to be viewed as near-definitive.

If Fassbender is more obviously cast than his leading lady, that’s not to say his performance is any less considered or intensely textured. There’s nary a hint in his interpretation of a man once “full of the milk of human kindness,” but his nervous unraveling does reveal Macbeth as a gauche, dependent soul, elevated by self-assigned male privilege. Fassbender may be a grand, seething physical presence, but his vocal delivery is immaculate: As befits a text judiciously edited to evoke a certain tartan terseness, the actor brings an inflamed, animalistic bark even to his most mellifluous monologues.

Kurzel likewise opts for high-impact spareness in the film’s visual and sonic design. He’s not afraid of broad symbolism: There may be one austere cross too many in the image system here, but this “Macbeth” does bear a substantial sense of spiritual consequence. Many filmmakers wouldn’t be able to pull off the blood-red filter that gradually saturates the screen in its final act, but Kurzel brings the proceedings to a pitch of disorder that makes this extreme stylistic leap seem intuitively inevitable: It’s as if the camera pre-emptively descends into the galleys of hell with its doomed subject.

Shooting on location in thorniest rural Scotland and England, Arkapaw’s work here (supplemented with additional lensing by Rob Hardy) is remarkable, exposing all the most hostile facets of the region’s beauty: Its dominant, sickly tones of gorse yellow and hurricane gray are permitted into the interiors of Fiona Crombie’s soaring yet rough-hewn production design. Costumes by Jacqueline Durran, an established master of fusing period authenticity with modern sculptural influence, are breathtaking: The coarse, hessian finish of 11th-century palace finery and battle gear alike are consistently offset by delicately suggestive detailing. Nothing is more effective in this regard than Macbeth’s own chunky crown — which, viewed close, resembles either a jagged chain of headstones or an oversized set of extracted baby teeth. In Kurzel’s thrillingly elemental new adaptation, death is a most literal burden to bear.
“Those Koreans. They’re so suspicious, you know, ever since Hiroshima.” Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) from American Horror Story: Season One

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Precious Doll
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Macbeth reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Sat May 23, 2015 4:58 am

Whilst positive there seems to be a number of back handed compliments thrown at the film throughout the review.

From The Hollywood Reporter by Leslie Felperin

Michael Fassbender stars as the title character in Justin Kurzel's verion of Shakespeare's Scotland-set play, opposite Marion Cotillard as his ambitious wife

Show people may superstitiously refuse to call Macbeth anything other than "the Scottish play," but the producers of this latest film version have lucked out by assembling cast and crew elements that make for an intensely compelling work. Although tradition is upheld with a Dark Ages-Early Christian period setting, actually shot in Scotland for once (unlike the 1971 Roman Polanski version), in most other respects Australian director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) filters Shakespeare's tragic story of murderous ambition through a resolutely modern sensibility. Comparisons with Game of Thrones will be inevitable, and not always flatteringly intended, but they won't be wide of the mark.

With its foregrounded class conflict, horror-movie spookiness and, most importantly, use of brutal violence, it's an adaptation that has a much better chance than most Bard-based works of crossing-over to audiences beyond the arthouses. The play's evergreen popularity in high-school syllabuses should help that along, as will the growing box-office draw of Michael Fassbender, sexy, charismatic and later poignant when his reason is unseated in the title role, opposite a surprisingly cast but completely persuasive Marion Cotillard as his manipulative wife.

The one constituency that probably won't look especially kindly on this will be stringent Shakespeare purists, who might start with scoffing at why three people (Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie) are credited for the screenplay before Shakespeare's name even gets a mention. (Presumably, they collaborated on the trimming down the dialogue and plotting several wordless scenes not in the original and the like.) Viewers accustomed to theatrical versions of Shakespeare may also be considerably less impressed. A well-trained stage actor should be able to find a way to make nearly every word, however archaic, sound comprehensible as well as audible. Although the film's press notes talk up how much the whole cast worked with coach Neil Swain to refine their delivery, there's an awful lot of mumbling going on here, and a sense that while the emotion might be discernible in the performer's face, it's like some kind of free-floating entity not tethered to what's coming out of his or her mouth. At times, some might as well be reciting names from the phone book instead of the free verse.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Kurzel's debut feature, fact-based serial killer drama Snowtown, leaned so heavily on low-key performances and dialed-up, cuss-word rich speech, it achieved quasi-documentary levels of naturalism.

Macbeth's cast stick to a very similar register here, pitching lines laconically, in almost conversational fashion. The style is established from the off, after a touching opener that observes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth laying to rest their dead child, with the meeting of the three witches. They are a Scots-accented, generation-spanning trio who gather in the mist to discuss Macbeth's fate with flat, cackle-free voices, like housewives sharing a recipe for Dundee cake. Dialogue aside, they only way you might know they're witches is because they have weird markings between their eyebrows, like vestigial gills or scars left over after the removal of a third eye.

The whole opening act is punchy as hell as Kurzel and crack editor Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire, Shaun of the Dead) deftly weave together contracted versions of key scenes and invented sequences that usefully fill out the story — like a battle that sees Macbeth, his right-hand man Banquo (Paddy Considine) and their men defeat invading Norsemen and the traitor Macdonwald, all done with a mix of slo-mo and drop-frame speed that emphasizes the carnage and chaos of medieval warfare. A young man, who might have been a son or just a squire for the soon-to-be-elevated Thane of Glamis, lies butchered on the battlefield. It's his ghost, blackened and blood-smeared but like all the other supernatural elements just a matter of fact part of this world, who holds out the dagger to Macbeth for the "is this a dagger I see before me?" speech just before the murder of King Duncan (David Thewlis, whom you can tell is meant to be the king because, to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he "hasn't got shit all over him").

Mostly, Kurzel and the screenwriters' add ins are felicitous inventions like the above, but some are perhaps a little too on the nose, like having Macbeth and Lady Macbeth literally humping on a tabletop for the "screw your courage to the sticking point" speech, though it can't be denied that the two actors have rapturous, swooning chemistry together.
Otherwise, a lot of the extra-textual additions work to flesh out Lady Macbeth's character and make her less than a stock scheming bitch and more comprehensible as a woman driven by frustration, grief and, yes, greed. Cotillard's French accent effectively underscores her otherness, suggesting that she might be the equivalent, with her Medusa braids and outre, Adam Ant-style smear of blue eyeshadow, of a medieval mail-order bride who'd understandably like a better life than the hard scrabble of survival in a shabby tent watching her children die. It's a smart move making her be a witness to the death of Lady Macduff, thus precipitating her guilt-fueled breakdown later. Cotillard nails the character's final, "out damn spot" monologue with a display of cracked sanity and despair that will surely reap this already much admired actress further awards recognition.

Fassbender's turn may be only fractionally less impressive because the audience knows that English is already his first language, even if famously he's also fluent in his father-tongue German. His Scottish accent is a bit wobbly in places, but that's nitpicking when you consider how much else he brings to the role – swagger, a credible military-man's mien and layers of self-doubt that rupture the cocky, tyrannical surface by degrees once he's grabbed the crown. But there's also a sneering streak of cruelty that rubs out any nobility to his plight; he's almost literally a man possessed by a demonic ambition, a point underscored by a slyly hilarious steal from Paranormal Activity at one point.

Other film references, for instance to Throne of Blood in the red-filtered climactic showdown with Macduff (Sean Harris) are possibly a bit too knowing, but otherwise Kurzel's visceral approach consistently pays dividends. Kurzel's d.p. from Snowtown, Adam Arkapaw (who also shot Animal Kingdom, a gangland tale of another sort), exploits the inherent pitilessness of high-definition to enhance the immediacy, while the collaboration between production designer Oz-born Fiona Crombie and Brit costume designer Jacqueline Durran produces some breathtaking visual textures. Although the outdoor locations are all Scotland, exploiting the eerie treeless landscapes for their full desolate potential, Crombie makes inspired use of Ely cathedral and its soaring vaults and massive spaces for Macbeth's royal abode.

Production companies: A Studiocanal, Film4 presentation of a Film4 in association with DMC Film, Anton Capital Entertainment, Creative Scotland of a See-Saw Films production
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Hayman, Maurice Roeves, Ross Anderson, James Harkness
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenwriters:Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Producers: Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Laura Hastings-Smith
Executive producers: Tessa Ross, Olivier Courson, Danny Perkins, Jenny Borgars, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Director of photography: Adam Arkapaw
Editor: Chris Dickens
Production designer: Fiona Crombie
Costume designer: Jacqueline Durran
Casting: Jina Jay
Make-up and hair designer: Jenny Shircore
Sales: Studiocanal
No rating, 113 minutes
“Those Koreans. They’re so suspicious, you know, ever since Hiroshima.” Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) from American Horror Story: Season One

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