I had been really looking forward to seeing this film because of the strong reviews it had received, such as this one. Macbeth is my favorite of all the plays of William Shakespeare and because it had excellent actors in Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the lead roles, I expected a lot. I tend to like his tragedies and histories a lot more than his comedies and this story is a timeless morality tale of a once-honorable man whose ‘vaulting ambition’ turns him into a ruthless and disturbed monster, egged on by an even more ambitious wife and led astray by deceptive promises of success and invincibility.
But I hated this film. It was relentlessly depressing in tone. Granted, Macbeth is not a barrel of laughs but whatever one may think of Shakespeare, he maintained a snappy pace in his plays and packed a lot of interesting dialogue as he briskly moved the story along. But the director had taken out huge chucks of the text and replaced it with long slow pans of vistas of Scottish scenery, coupled with long and extremely bloody fight scenes with the action often moving in slow motion, and the actors often mumbling and staring in silence. There were entire bits of familiar text, like Macbeth’s speech about murdering sleep, that disappeared in this version. Much of the witches’ dialogue was replaced by them wandering around slowly in a fog and staring.
The focus on violence and gore was troubling. In the play the murders often take place off stage and are reported by the characters. But the director in the film misses no opportunity to make the deaths into gruesome visual spectacles.
In short, I thought the film was a pretentious mess, boring when it was not bloody, and perhaps appealing mostly to those who value cinematic technique over basic storytelling. I did not feel anything at all when key characters, including our dynamic duo of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, died. (I assume that everyone knows the story and that I am not giving away any spoilers. Besides, Shakespeare is well known for pretty much killing off most of the characters in his tragedies, as is captured by the joke about making a sequel to Hamlet titled Hamlet II: Where Is Everybody?)
There is lot to be said for seeing this play on stage where the director does not have the luxury of using visuals to replace speech and thus has to focus more on getting the most out of the dialogue.
Watch the trailer. And then imagine nearly two hours of pretty much the same tone.