Well I finally have it. The filmed version of Macbeth that I had in my mind for my entire life. This film is so well done, from every single acting performance, to the music, the cinematography, the palpable dark feel of every scene. The entire movie is a mood piece, and that mood is one of dread, paranoia, and death.
It reminded me of Refn’s striking film VALHALLA RISING. Imagine the style of that film matched with very stylized slow-motion shots that elongate the moment of violence or anticipation of that violence.
I also was reminded of my favorite Werner Herzog film, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD. That film was a perfect match of long shots of the river or explorers moving through landscapes to the droning moody music of Popol Vuh. The director of Macbeth had to love Aguirre. He also matched similar visuals with striking music that keeps you anxious. Lot of violins and cellos and droning bagpipes lurk under most of the film.
The use of color and mist was inspired. Several shots of silhouettes of human figures walking reminded me of John Carpenter’s underrated film, THE FOG. And AGUIRRE, again. Maybe a bit of THE WITCH. Many scenes choose a color scheme and stick with it. Many blues are used in the hills and castles, gold and yellow candlelight are used perfectly in scenes with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and the bright reds and oranges are used in battle scenes of blood and fire. Sparks float by in slow motion as warriors draw their swords, and I could almost feel the heat from the maelstrom behind them.
A few scenes of character’s faces in a room of hundreds of candles reminded me of Ridley Scott’s amazing lighting in BLADE RUNNER. I was actually looking for the glint in Macbeth’s eyes that would hint that he was a replicant. I also recalled Stanley Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON, where he used natural light and specific lenses to actually film the period piece by the available light that was available at the time of the story. Candlelight. Every scene in Macbeth is gorgeous. The location shots in the Scotland and England landscapes are stunning. It was reminiscent of the New Zealand beauty in the Lord of the Rings films. It has the same attention to rolling hills, snowy mountains, and small lakes and rivers. The majesty of nature.
Nothing about this film struck me as being stagey, or ‘just a play filmed for the screen’ like the Roman Polanski version. This film makes Polanski’s version look like watching a poorly done high school play. It is certainly quite dramatic and heavy, and all actors were completely immersed in their roles. Lines and speeches we’ve all heard a hundred times seemed new and fresh. They didn’t do anything in an expected or familiar way. Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth gave the best portrayal of that character that I’ve seen. And Michael Fassbinder was a Shakespearean force of darkness. I truly believed that he was Macbeth.
Although it is violent and bloody and filmed in a very engaging manner, it still is Shakespeare’s words. So younger viewers expecting a hyper-edited action oriented film will, of course, be disappointed. If you’re not into the colloquial language of Shakespeare, steer clear. The olde style vocabulary combined with the heavy Scottish accents requires your attention. I will admit I put on the subtitles at some points.
Again, this is by far the best film adaptation of this play. I’m already looking forward to watching it again. Well worth the time investment.