By Bob Bloom
From its opening with the three witches to its bloody climax, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” always has suggested a tragedy racing toward its inexorable conclusion.
It is a depressing exercise about the excesses of royal ambition and the crimson course it engenders.
The portrayals of the infamous Thane and his wife always are tricky. Macbeth must be a courageous and fearless warrior whose physical prowess belies a weak and corrupt soul.
Lady Macbeth must be a loving wife whose drive for her husband clouds her mind and judgment, leading to regicide and mass murder.
“Macbeth” may be dark, but it revels in mayhem. That is not the case, though, with the latest film adaptation of the work.
Director Justin Kurzel’s version is slow, self-conscious and listless. He creates a Scotland bereft of sunlight; one that is cold, damp and inhospitable.
He also telescopes the action in the story so, that like an episode of a criminal procedure series, events seem to transpire in a day or two.
This is a contradictory “Macbeth.” The plot appears to rush through its petty paces; at the same time, however, the actors seem to be performing in slow motion.
Michael Fassbender makes an arresting Macbeth. He ably displays the ferocity of the warrior-noble, but acts reluctantly and nearly apathetic when he must perform the dirty deeds needed to achieve the crown.
It feels as if his Macbeth acts simply to end his wife’s pestering, rather than for any personal gain.
Fassbender displays a touching compassion and remorse for the soldiers he loses in battle. Later, he shows an arrogant and cruel nature after hearing the witches’ second prophecy that no man of woman born can do him harm.
His Scottish brogue comes and goes, depending on the heat of the moment. The intensity he brings to his characterization seems to overwhelm his vocal interpretation.
Marion Cotillard underplays Lady Macbeth, which usually is the showier role. Her eyes burn with the idea of her husband ruling the land, but they slowly begin to dull over time as she realizes the enormity of the crimes that have bloodied the kingdom. Guilt overwhelms her, yet she is such a talented performer that she disdains the histrionics that are usually associated with the role.
Overall, the movie lacks intensity and spark — no high points exist. Even at less than two hours, it seems to slink to its conclusion.
Kurzel has created a brutal, bleak and depressing landscape overladen with gloom and despair.
Yet, for some reason, he cannot totally suck you in. You resist being drawn into his nightmarish Scotland. Thus, you fight against wholly immersing yourself in this adaptation.
Like other film adaptations of “Macbeth,” Kurzel’s offers some stimulating perspectives on human frailties. It’s just not a memorable commentary on our weaknesses.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
2½ stars out of 4
(R), graphic and bloody violence, sexual situations