It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Taking a wildly innovative approach to bringing Shakespeare’s text to the screen is always a tricky proposition. For every example that works, like Michael Almereyda’s “Hamlet” (2000) set in contemporary New York City, there’s an admirable misfire like Julie Taymor’s gender-bending “The Tempest” (2010). The Bard is an irresistible challenge for filmmakers, especially ones who want to put their own bold stamp on his centuries-old verse.
Australian director Justin Kurzel tackles “Macbeth” with a few narrative tweaks and a whole lot of visceral violence. His film is just devastatingly gorgeous to look at—with a climax soaked in a fiery red that suggests “Macbeth” on Mars—even as it contains individual images that are so graphic, they may cause you to look away. And although he’s maintained the crucial supernatural elements of “The Scottish Play,” as it’s known superstitiously, Kurzel also wallows in the grit and muck, which gives his film a texture and an immediacy.
Chunks of mud and drops of blood fly across bleak, gray skies and craggy highlands in super slow motion. (Adam Arkapaw, the cinematographer, also shot the great Aussie indie “Animal Kingdom” as well as Kurzel’s debut feature, “Snowtown.”) The look of it is so richly rough-hewn, you’ll feel as if you could reach out and touch it, even as the characters’ actions become increasingly repulsive.
This “Macbeth” also grabs you with the charismatic presence of its two stars, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Fassbender has made a career out of playing complicated, tormented figures, in movies ranging from “Hunger” to “Shame” to “12 Years a Slave.” The murder and madness of Macbeth are his bread and butter. Still, the danger that lurks beneath his lean, cool good looks gives his Macbeth an especially unsettling air. Cotillard, meanwhile, has an otherworldly quality that makes her menacing—a quiet intensity in those enormous eyes and a standoffishness that makes her seem unpredictable, even though we’re all-too aware of the devious plot her Lady Macbeth has in store.