Starring Michael Fassbender. Rated 14A.
Brutally violent, emotionally muted, and seriously lacking a love of language, this Macbeth is best suited to an audience that wants to see how Quentin Tarantino would handle Shakespeare. Sadly, it’s not that good.
Australian Justin Kurzel, who made the similarly blood-soaked The Snowtown Murders, here tackles the Scottish Play by way of three relative newcomers to Adaptation Land. Enough of Bill the Shake’s thinking and even words emerges to remind you of its dark lyricism. And Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard nicely physicalize their roles, as Lord and Lady Macbeth, in a way that connects their mutually destructive strategies with their sexuality.
Things begin well, with the burial of an infant Macbeth—a detail missing from the original—thus explaining some of their empty-nest psychoses, and their fixation on wiping out other people’s bloodlines. Shot mostly in Scotland, the views and production design by Fiona Crombie (Truth) are both spectacular and oddly humble. The killer couple’s MacMansion is more of a shack than a castle, and even the bare-bones pad belonging to King Duncan (Anomalisa’s David Thewlis) doesn’t look worth stabbing anybody for. But once his “fatal vision” sets in, the once-valiant Macbeth can’t help but unleash his inner Trump.
Okay, all this mental corruption is still relevant, but the other part that keeps Shakespeare impor-tant is the linguistic virtuosity his words require, regardless of subject or treatment. What makes Kurzel’s Macbeth a real snoozer, and inferior to almost every filmed version (including Akira Kurosawa’s unforgettable, Japanese-language Throne of Blood), is the decision to have everybody swallow their microphones and hoarsely whisper, making the dialogue both unintelligible and feeble. The two-hour film is full of synthesized sound and fury, and what it signifies is not worth watching.