Skip to main content

O, full of scorpions is my mind.

Macbeth
(2015)

I don’t know quite what was going on in Justin Kurzel’s head, but it wasn’t anything good. How do you turn Macbeth, the most visceral and succinct of Shakespeare’s tragedies, into something so dull, fractured and disengaged? He leaves the play hollow, disembowelled, inducing us to contemplate an edit suite’s worth of tinted colour washes, random isolated “artistic” shots and disconnected actors staring into space. Perhaps we have reached the point where any slightly different take on the Bard gets an automatic free pass, or a commendation even, but this one certainly shouldn’t.


Kurzel appears so set on creating a visual and aural ambiance, he completely loses any sense of plot, which is quite something as, of all Shakespeare’s plays, it’s probably the most difficult to get lost within. There’s an active effort to undermine the drama and dialogue at every turn, with scenes rendered inert by the performers’ lack of engagement.


His leads perversely bury their dialogue, forcing forth subdued delivery from somewhere amidst a glen in Scotland (Kurzel probably thought it was a really good idea having most of this take place outdoors, but the effect is too close to parody; you keep expecting “The Comic Strip Presents” to flash up at any moment). There’s zero sense of the coiled relationship between Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marian Cotillard), despite throwing in an extra-textual lost bibby at the outset. Their motivation in murder is purely because that’s what it says in the play, rather than through investment in the characters, and the antic dispositions subsequently afflicting them find Fassbender practically Python-ing it up with “m-m-m-mad” looks when he starts seeing spooks everywhere.


This Macbeth comes across an exercise in tonal difference, rather than the result of a desire to deliver a distinct vision of the play. It’s akin to an overly self-conscious student art project, just with striking cinematography; all distracted shots of the Fass soliloquising, intercut with rearing horses. Kurzel’s approach makes for a curiously, and bizarrely, passive interpretation. And clumsily literal at times too. Birnam Wood may not come to Dunsinane, for some unknown reason, but when Lady M instructs her hubby to screw his courage to the sticking post, they actually screw. It’s as if Beavis and Butthead were in on the script conference (“She said screw, heh-heh”).


It wouldn’t surprise me, as somehow it took three writers to adapt the play. The first half hour is incredibly ponderous, despite – or because – of Kurzel making great play at the warfare (this isn’t just limited to the nonsense of stage theatrics, you know). He only really gets a grip whenever Sean Harris enter scene left as Macduff. Harris is an inspired piece of casting, making a character who tends to be rather linear and earnest instantly wired and dangerous, long before he’s lost his precious little ones (the only Sean Harris there is wired and dangerous; you could cast him as the romantic lead in a Richard Curtis comedy and he’d still freak you out). He steals the show; it should have been called Macduff.


Harris has a relatively easy job, mind, as so little else is of consequence. The climactic battle is entirely without drama, since we never worked up any interest in the fates of Mr and Mrs Mac B to begin with; there’s no rise and fall, no escalation or tension. A solid cast has been assembled (Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki) but they’re immobile, taken down by the overly fussy editing, distracted stylistic flourishes and a Jed Kurzel score which, although good, serves merely to underline his brother’s disinterest in providing an immersive experience. Unless one equates superficial with engrossing. 


There are a good few film adaptations of the Scottish Play out there, and pretty much any of them would be a better bet to investigate than this one. Still, we can but hope Kurzel’s Macbeth paves the way for further tone-deaf adaptations: perhaps Michael Bay’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or McG’s The Tempest. As for what this says abut Kurzel’s forthcoming Assassin’s Creed, I wouldn’t hold your breath for the bright new dawn of computer game properties smartly translated to the big screen.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

Outstanding. Now, let’s bite off all the heads and pile them up in the corner.

Venom (2018)
(SPOILERS) A 29% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes can't be wrong, can it? To go by the number of one-star reviews Sony’s attempt to kick-start their own shred of the Marvel-verse has received, you’d think it was the new Battlefield Earth, or Highlander II: The Quickening. Fortunately, it's far from that level of ignominy. And while it’s also a considerable distance from showing the polish and assuredness of the official Disney movies, it nevertheless manages to establish its own crudely winning sense of identity.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.