From Cannes: "Macbeth" a Fresh Take

Dir. Justin Kurzel (The Weinstein Company)—4 Stars

The most surprising aspect of Justin Kurzel’s new adaptation of “Macbeth” is its lack of dialogue. The brooding film devotes much of its two-hour runtime to resplendent visuals, showcasing the Scottish highlands through a variety of dark colors and filters. As Macbeth slowly realizes his inevitable tragic fate, Kurzel shifts from the deep blues of the first act into a red, hellish landscape that mirrors the protagonist’s state of mind and soul.

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard make for a wonderfully compelling team of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, bringing a nuanced take on the Bard’s characters. Unlike traditional portrayals, the two actors ground the story’s political conflict on preserving their characters’ relationship . Script co-writers Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso, and Michael Lesslie also take certain liberties of interpretation with the source material—in a departure from some scholarly interpretations that Lady Macbeth is barren, the film’s first scene explicitly portrays the funeral of the couple’s young daughter.

These minor changes, along with the script’s heavy trimming, might upset Shakespeare purists—though famous soliloquies, such as that containing the famous line “Unsex me here,” still remain. The film also runs into trouble with some of the dialogue’s delivery—the guttural, Batman-like growling of Fassbender and the film’s other Scotsmen is often indecipherable, and even English native speakers would benefit from subtitles in viewings of the film.

It is clear that Kurzel has a very specific and ambitious vision for his adaptation, and this shows in his detailed attention to style. With the help of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, Kurzel often pulls off haunting wide shots of the mountainous Scottish landscape or thrilling slow-motion action sequences. The latter type occurs sparingly, and, unlike in films such as “300,” these shots convey the traumatic atmosphere of the battlefield without being comical. Although the film is certainly a non-traditional adaptation within the realm of Shakespeare films, it is one that leverages its medium to greatest effect.


—Alan R. Xie can be reached