Director: Justin Kurzel
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare in Time, Place Shakespeare Intended” went a particularly memorable Onion headline. Creatively unfaithful takes on the Bard have so become the norm that it can seem bold that the umpteenth film of “Macbeth” actually unfolds in 11th century Scotland. But it goes one better. It’s not a sanitized version, destined to kill time in high school English classes. It’s grimily realistic, filled with dilapidated castles, rickety shacks, overcast skies and deafening wind. The violence, which comes early and often, is nasty and traumatizing. Director Justin Kurzel opens with a battle where men inelegantly plow into each other, the few survivors emerging caked in dried Heinz 57.
It sounds unique, but even this has been done before. In 1971, in the wake of his wife and unborn child’s murders by the Manson Family, Roman Polanski tried to exorcise at least some of his demons by making a bleak-o-rama version of “The Scottish Play.” Like this “Macbeth,” it too was set in an unforgiving realm. It too had buckets of blood and gore. It too had actors trying to make iambic pentameter sound natural. The big difference is that Polanski cast young, underknown actors like Jon Finch and Francesca Annis. Kurzel casts Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard — acclaimed, poster-friendly thespians. The draw isn’t seeing another gritty “Macbeth” but in a more classical Shakespeare production way: wondering what great actors will do with roles and a story audiences have been watching for centuries.