If you haven’t seen Marion Cotillard play Lady Macbeth, you really haven’t seen the role inhabited with the glorious fire and ice it needs to haunt your dreams. The great French actress takes a torch to standard portrayals and rides the role to glory. It’s supposed to be bad luck to say the title of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, but this Macbeth (there, I said it) thrives on breaking rules.
Director Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders) goes his own cinematic way, toying with the Bard when he chooses and slicing out huge verse passages in favor of images that sting. Purists will raise holy hell. Screw them. Even when coherence gets swept away by Kurzel’s rogue visionary design, you know you’re in the presence of a dazzling, defiant talent. Michael Fassbender is every inch the warrior king tormented by conscience as Macbeth. Things left offstage are thrust front and center by Kurzel. That includes the funeral for the Macbeths’ infant child that Shakespeare never imagined.
Anyone who endured a high-school lit class knows the plot as Macbeth’s ambition consumes him and the weird sisters predict his doom. There’s the murder of King Duncan (David Thewlis) that begins the slaughter needed to take and keep the throne. And the guilt kicking in for Lady Macbeth as she watches the execution of Macduff’s wife (Elizabeth Debicki) and her children. Kurzel doesn’t spare us the gore or the bleak psychology of the piece. And the score by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother) intensifies our sense of a world off its axis.
Shot in the Scottish Highlands in thunder, lightning and rain by Adam Arkapaw, this Macbeth deserves to stand with the fiercest film versions of the play, directed by Orson Welles and Roman Polanski. Kurzel, blowing away all traces of academic respectability, leaves you chilled to the bone and ready to run for your life.