True to its classic source, a new film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” paints a tragic portrait with artful strokes of bloody violence and brooding intimacy.
In the latter scenes, characters speak, as the Bard puts it so brilliantly, of “daggers of the mind.” These cerebral blades include the play’s famous witches. The “weird sisters” emerge from the battlefield mist to vex Macbeth with their contradictory prophecies.
“Not so happy, yet much happier,” one strange sister says of the future. When the witches take their leave, the puzzled Macbeth implores, “Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more.” But they’ll say no more.
Lady Macbeth also hears the prophecies. She takes them to heart. She becomes the instigator of murder most foul.
“Screw your courage to the sticky place,” the future queen tells her wary husband, “and we will not fail.”
The film’s mind daggers are matched by real swords and knives on the battlefield. During an early clash, the combatants’ ferocity reaches true savagery. Battlefield butchery is shown in real time as well as magnifying slow motion. The story’s slaughter on a smaller scale likewise releases the animals in men.
Michael Fassbender is Macbeth, thane of Cawdor and would-be king. The Irish actor’s commendable toil and trouble in “Macbeth” follows his even more relentless, Oscar-nominated performance in the bio-pic “Steve Jobs.”
“Steve Jobs,” written by Aaron Sorkin, a great contemporary wordsmith, is a brilliant film that failed to find an audience. Although the same fate has met “Macbeth,” the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center and Chalmette Movies are jointly showing the film Saturday through Tuesday at Chalmette Movies.
Fassbender frets and murders his way through Australian director Justin Kurzel’s visually arresting “Macbeth.” Kurzel, helming just his second feature film, mounts a bleak yet beautiful account of Macbeth’s bloodstained ambition.
Fassbender, beyond his signature penetrating delivery, is among the most physically aggressive screen actors. In 2013’s “12 Years a Slave,” his sadistic slaveholder gleefully manhandles sweating co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor. In “Macbeth,” Fassbender again wraps his arms around fellow actors for in-their-face intimidation.
Because “Macbeth” is a such story of madness, Fassbender is a fine pick for the lead. In his unhinged Macbeth, soft words of death are spoken in perverse delight.
Marion Cotillard, another example of the film’s well-tuned cast, co-stars as Lady Macbeth. Despite being her husband’s ruthless co-conspirator, Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth gives the film’s misty, windy highlands a character worthy of some sympathy. “Hell is murky,” the queen says.
As the story progresses, Lady Macbeth’s evil subsides while her husband’s wickedness grows stronger. Fassbender embraces Macbeth’s plunge from honored cousin of King Duncan (David Thewlis) to reviled fiend of Scotland.
Deeper in the cast, Paddy Considine strikes a noble stance as Macbeth’s loyal lieutenant Banquo. The fighting and friendship the two men share make Macbeth’s ensuing bad behavior all the more unsavory.
Other good guys include Jack Reynor’s Prince Malcolm, traumatized heir to Duncan. Reynor’s painful message to Sean Harris’ viciously betrayed Macduff is among the movie’s most memorable scenes.
“Be this the whetstone of your sword,” Malcolm advises Macduff. “Let grief convert to anger.”
The fresh “Macbeth” director Kurzel has fashioned is likely to interest mostly art house cinema fans and Shakespeare aficionados.
But some adventurous mainstream moviegoers may enjoy the feast, too. Most of all, it’s still Shakespeare’s storytelling and the high-octane performances by Fassbender and Cotillard that win the audience’s loyalty.