Cannes 2015- Macbeth Review – The Best Shakespeare Film Of The Millennium

Cannes 2015- Macbeth Review – The Best Shakespeare Film Of The Millennium

Normally adaptations of the Bard’s works live in an immense shadow, confined by the rigid structure of his plays and thus consisting mostly of lengthy dialogue exchanges across a handful of sets. This approach has admittedly led to some great films (just take a trip down Kenneth Branagh’s filmography), but can also make it feel like we haven’t moved on that much from drunken revellers watching then-contemporary productions in a pre-fire Globe.

From the opening of Macbeth, Justin Kurzel makes clear that this is something different. There’s a text crawl providing contextual information that moves up to reveal wide landscape shots of a barren, unforgiving Scotland bathed in mist as three figures drolly prophesie the future, followed by an action sequence epic in scale and breath-taking in its majesty. Slow-motion shots punctuate the visceral battle, highlighting blood spurts, sword swings and character screams. It does for Shakespeare what Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach opening did for World War II, making anything previous seem antiquated and no doubt setting a future tone (expect this film to spark into life a slew of other faithful tragedy adaptations).

In some corners, losing a single “art thou” from Shakespeare’s plays is disrespectful, but Kurzel gets both the broader story and what his film in particular is honing in on so that any of the changes work. The Scottish play has been cut down to a two hour runtime where dialogue-less action scenes punctuate the verbal confrontations, and yet it feels like a fully complete narrative, the play’s five-act structure perfectly melded into three; this is a film that looks like a film and tells a film’s story. There could have been some more scenes for Macduff, who slinks in the background until near the end, but to get too hung up on that would distract from the fact that this is a couple’s story.

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