Bleak, dark foreshadowing makes William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth a cautionary tale. This year’s film adaptation, Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) as Macbeth and Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris) as Lady Macbeth is, to paraphrase the play, an exercise in artsy melodrama signifying nothing more than king for a day.
Following a bloody battle in which Macbeth shows his grit, he gets a prophecy from three witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Amid mumbling and moody lighting and photography with dramatic, grand Scottish landscapes, Macbeth, encouraged to do the dastardly deed by his wife, murders the king Duncan (David Thewlis) and takes the throne. Things quickly go wrong from there as Banquo (Paddy Considine), Malcolm (Jack Reynor) and Macduff (Sean Harris) look on in anger, disgust and vengeance. Fassbender as Macbeth, a tortured, mad man consumed by his own delusions, taunted by the witches, is fine, playing the lead character as stiff, brittle and ready to snap. Cotillard is fine, too, if a bit much in certain scenes. But this Macbeth plays like a Joe Wright adaptation of Tolstoy or Austen, more style than substance, in spite of Shakespeare’s stirring lines about the madness of power lust.
Things get terribly graphic and gory and the fight choreography is jumbled by the quick cuts. Slow motion battle scenes are effective and the play’s best line, delivered by a lead rival in the ashen climax still stings: “I have no words. My voice is in my sword.” I haven’t seen previous movie adaptations but I doubt this one will become the standard bearer and I think the great movie version of this remarkable play has yet to be made. As a story of one of strength and ability who seems to designate himself for doom—a living, spiraling self-fulfilling prophecy—it bears repeating for a world filled with Macbeths.