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Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard both deliver fantastic, fascinating performances in “MacBeth,” as the Scottish warrior who would be king and his calculating wife. Why would we expect any less? Both Fassbender and Cotillard are among the finest actors working, and tend to be the best thing even in bad movies they’ve made (Fassbender is far and away the best part of “Prometheus,” the ill-conceived “Alien” prequel from Ridley Scott a few years ago, and Cotillard tried really hard to save the sexist, dated “The Immigrant” a few years ago.)  Both make a movie worth watching that wouldn’t be with lesser actors on the screen.

And “MacBeth” is certainly worth watching. Director Justin Kurzel’s visual style is maybe a little too beholden to music videos; I wouldn’t mind a few longer takes and a few less “striking” images (that’s a matter of diminishing returns.) But the ways that he has found a fresh angle on the famous play, while staying true to Shakespeare’s script, are profound and illuminating. “MacBeth” has always been a tale of madness, but Kurzel more or less gives that madness a medical diagnosis: in the grips of PTSD, after suffering the death of two children, MacBeth makes one bad decision that spirals him down into an inescapable hole.  It’s amazing the insight Shakespeare had into humanity so many years ago: we are still learning how to name and treat things that he identified and seemed to understand in 1606.

Everything is engulfed in fog in this “MacBeth,” which I think is true both to the location (I’ve never been to Scotland, but when I picture it in my head, I picture a lot of weather) and MacBeth’s head space; he seems unable to see beyond just what’s in front of him, to consider the long term or far-reaching consequences of his actions, until it’s too late. As such, the story becomes, thematically, actually less about madness, (and really, hardly about destiny or witches at all) and more about violence. Kurzel has received a fair amount of criticism for just how violent and bloody this movie is, but I think those critics are missing the point.  This isn’t violence for the sake of effect; Kurzel is not Zack Snyder.  The point is that violent men cannot simply change their clothes and become men of peace.  The violence sticks to your soul.

King Duncan has won the civil war in his realm while avoiding the battle field himself, but in so doing, he’s brought on his own destruction; the men who return to him are psychologically damaged, and don’t know how to do anything except resolve conflicts through bloodshed. MacBeth stands at the leading edge of this, but no one seems untouched.  Great supporting performances by Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, and Paddy Considine give us a sense of a remaining kingdom whose descent into destruction is inevitable.  Maybe that’s what the witches saw.

Fassbender and Cotillard will reunite with director Justin Kurzel here in a few weeks on “Assassin’s Creed;” that fact alone means that, while there has yet to be a really good movie based on a video game, “Creed” might be the one.  Here’s hoping.


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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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