‘Macbeth’ Review | The Scots Must Be Crazy

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.” Amen to that. Unfortunately Justin Kurzel’s dismal adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a molasses flow of a movie. It’s got all of the tragedy but none of the theatricality, and that makes for a droning, moaning, tone deaf presentation in which nobody – not even the Bard – ever makes themselves truly heard.

You know the story, or at least you should: Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is a Scottish general who receives a prophecy from three witches, who say he will become King of Scotland. Inspired by the prophecy, and by his scheming wife Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), he murders King Duncan (David Thewlis), ascends to the throne and goes cuckoo banana cufflinks. He kills anyone and everyone who might threaten his newfound position, then his wife freaks out pretty hard too, and eventually – as in all Shakespearean tragedies – pretty much everybody dies.

Macbeth is a delirious and exciting tale of ambition and insanity, packed with both violence and magic. Or at least it was until Justin Kurzel got to it. His ponderous rendition envisions Macbeth as a traumatized soldier, suffering from the devastating loss of his child and the many horrors of war. It’s a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the character but Macbeth’s dreary depression permeates throughout the whole production, so that the entire motion picture comes across as hopelessly emo. You could randomly chop out any hundred shots, assemble them all at random, and wind up with perfectly decent Nine Inch Nails video.

Birnam Wood Macbeth 2015

Related: What’s the Best William Shakespeare Movie Ever?

Kurzel’s commitment to playing this Macbeth as realistically as possible doesn’t help either. Macbeth’s first meeting with the Weird Sisters plays not like a man encountering the mystical, but like a guy who happened to run into a couple women who just happen to think he’ll one day be king. It’s an inciting incident that, as portrayed this “realistically,” wouldn’t realistically incite a single damned thing, let alone one of the greatest tragedies ever written. And then of course when Macbeth claims they vanished “into the air,” we see that they’re actually just about twenty feet away, having slowly walked off into a fog bank. Either Fassbender’s Macbeth is incredibly dim or the filmmakers think we are. 

Perhaps that’s why the dialogue all comes across like a Gregorian chant, to convince us it’s all very important without having to bother with little things like inflection. Every single actor intones the great portent of their colorful lines, without any of the “colorful” parts. Every single actor, that is, except for Marion Cotillard, who seems desperate to slap some energy into these proceedings. She snakes her way through this version of Macbeth, constantly ready to strike, and whenever she does you want to yell: “Thank you, ma’am! May I have another?”

Macbeth Marion Cotillard Michael Fassbender

“Where’s the fire?” one wonders, all of the damned time, until the fire actually shows up. Macbeth’s nemesis Macduff, in a clever reimagining of the original text, sets Birnam Wood on ablaze instead of lugging it along with them, engulfing the film’s climax in an amber apocalypse. Macbeth and Macduff transform into dark silhouettes against bright orange hues in a fight that would be thrilling if we hadn’t been lulled into total catatonia for nearly two hours beforehand.

It’s tempting to quote Macbeth ourselves, in particular that whole Act V, Scene 5 bit about “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” So let’s just do that, and call it a day.

Photos: The Weinstein Company

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.