I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t the only person who hated reading Shakespeare in English classes growing up in middle through to high school. I didn’t understand a single thing he wrote down, and the only reason I got by was because of the glorious invention of Spark Notes. As I have grown older, however, my appreciation for Shakespeare has started to grow and there are some of his plays that I am able to fully enjoy and can finally see why we still read his plays even to this day. As much as I enjoy reading some of the plays, I still much rather enjoy watching the film version of the plays, especially when they are modern adaptations of the classic stories. It all started with Baz Luhrmann in 1996 when he brought us the teen hit classic “Romeo + Juliet” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. It took the story of “Romeo and Juliet” and transformed it into an experience that had never been envisioned before. Since then, there has been a string of modern adaptations of these famed plays, including the great “Much Ado About Nothing” and the incredibly well crafted “Coriolanus.” When I had heard that my favorite Shakespeare play, “Macbeth,” had been turned into a movie, my excitement could hardly be contained.
The three aforementioned films are essentially exact replications of the play but put in a modern setting. “Romeo + Juliet” takes place in a modern city with cars, guns, and helicopters instead of what would normally be used in old Verona. “Coriolanus,” a war play, has war depicted in a modern sense rather than what would’ve been the norm in Shakespeare’s day. “Macbeth,” however, isn’t modern in terms of its setting; the characters still ride around on horses and use swords to fight instead of guns and other modern weapons. It is modern in the way it is filmed, but other than that it stays true to the setting of the original play. I like this choice by director Justin Kurzel because it allows the mood of the original play to stay the same, making it more intense and dramatic in its cinematic flair. Grim, depressing, and almost woefully melodramatic, this adaption takes any resemblance of joy from the source material, removes it, and creates a vast amount of intense desolation in its wake. Violent in the most purposeful sense, this adaption accentuates everything that is depressing about the story, but portrays these struggles and evil events with such style that it can only be awed at on the big screen.
While the depressing, intense atmosphere may not be everyone’s cup of tea (my mother wasn’t a fan), it is one of the things that I do quite enjoy about the film. It gives such a raw and powerful feeling to it that I can’t help but love. The cinematography is absolutely astonishing with such brilliant use of colors and shot editing to really enhance the emotion of the moments. The brilliance with adapting Shakespeare is you don’t have to worry about writing a good story because you already have one, meaning you can spend most of your energy on the acting and style of the film, two areas that “Macbeth” excels in. Using excellent editing to make the monologues more engaging and brilliant cinematography to draw the audience in further, “Macbeth” is impossible to turn away from at certain moments. Also, they couldn’t have picked a better a better leading duo in Marian Cotillard and Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is almost as if each was made for this role.
I will admit, it does get a bit melodramatic at times, almost to the extent where it could be slightly annoying. There is a slight drop in pace in the middle act, but that can somewhat be forgiven with the incredibly engaging beginning and ending acts. Fair warning with all Shakespeare adaptions: it is much easier to understand if you have background knowledge of the source material since you can’t stop and reread a passage of Shakespeare’s poetic verse when it’s in movie form. What’s most important about a movie version of a Shakespeare play, however, is its ability to create images and moments that can’t be performed on a stage, and with its pronounced editing and cinematography, “Macbeth” presents an experience different from reading or seeing the play that makes it all worthwhile in the end.
Macbeth (2015): 3.5/4 stars