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With Snowtown, director Justin Kurzel proved he could create a grim and foreboding mood; now with Macbeth he doubles down on that with an adaptation that’s visually stunning even as it whittles the text down to a point well past the bare essentials.
As Macbeth, Michael Fassbender is all brooding gloom with glimmers of uncertainty, stalking across smokey moors in between Kurzel’s extensive long shots showing off the grim beauty of the Scottish Highlands. Everyone else – with the exception of David Thewlis as Duncan – barely registers, with Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth suffering from the film’s decision to focus on Macbeth going off the deep end pretty much the moment he takes the throne.
The visuals are nothing less than stunning: this is an adaptation you take in through your eyes, with Shakespeare’s dialogue trimmed back time and time again as characters are reduced to props and speeches are replaced with a look. So much is taken out of the play that the story barely functions, but Kurzel and Fassbender want you looking at their work, not Shakespeare’s. And when what you’re putting on the screen is this absorbing to watch, who can blame them?
Reviewed by Anthony Morris