An army pronounces in unison, “Hail Macbeth! Hail Macbeth! Hail Macbeth!” They are hundreds strong, clad in armor, blades in their hands, their faces covered with mud and sweat and war paint. Across from them is another army, the foes they’ll clash with in a torrent of rage, a battle which will stain the field, a canvas of vivid greens and yellows, red with blood.
This is how Justin Kurzel’s cinematic adaptation of Macbeth starts.
From the moment the film begins, viewers know they’re in for a visual treat. Kurzel and Adam Arkapaw, the director and cinematographer respectively, do an incredible job capturing the native beauty of Scotland. Such marvelous vistas are contrasted sharply with the deeds of Macbeth and his spouse, played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.
While there are numerous wide shots which capture the natural splendor surrounding the characters, the director isn’t afraid of tight shots, allowing the actors to emote during pivotal scenes. We see the mix of grief and rage as Macduff learns his family has been killed, the terror in Macbeth’s eyes when he sees the spirit of Banquo at his feast and the madness and sorrow as the Lady Macbeth speaks to the apparition of her deceased child.
“Macbeth” is very faithful to the source material, so expect plenty of arcane terms and complex metaphors throughout. What makes this film great is the striking visual style coupled with an excellent cast. “Macbeth” is a cautionary tale of how power and its trappings can lead to misery. It is also a story of how committing a mortal sin can poison a person’s soul until they become a shadow of their former self. Macbeth and his wife do their best to act normal after they butcher their king, but the guilt eats away at them until death becomes the only possible release.
In many ways “Macbeth” is necessary for our times. What good is power if it is attained through illicit means? The end result is a person who is desperate to retain what they have, sometimes resorting to corrupt means. It’s a moral bankruptcy which piles on itself like so many layers of filth. It is no surprise that the titular character became a tyrannical king since it is understood that if he would do anything to claim the throne then he would do anything, no matter how lowly, to keep it.
For viewers who are familiar with the play, such as I, this cinematic adaptation will be undoubtedly captivating. Newcomers to Shakespeare should see this film if only for the masterful level of filmmaking on display. No shot is wasted. Even if the meaning of the words is lost, the visuals alone will cue viewers in on what is happening and, hopefully, will introduce more people to the enduring classics. This is a rendition of Macbeth for the modern era, also catering to longtime fans. So I’ll gladly join in by saying, “Hail Macbeth!”.