I really wanted to like this movie, and in truth there is a lot to recommend it. It’s an honest rendering of the play — although there are minor changes and cuts, none of them do violence to the play’s basic story. The settings are almost hyper-realist, with many scenes shot on the Isle of Skye. Many of the cast are actual Scots, or at least do a good rendering of Shakespeare’s words in a Scottish mouth. The cinematography is superb, and the battle scenes are well done. And Michael Fassbaender’s portrayal of Macbeth finds the right balance between charismatic leader and morally bankrupt plotter, which is not easy to do.
But I didn’t like the movie much.
One advantage of doing a play on film, instead of onstage, is that the actors can speak in a range of natural voices — they don’t have to play to the back row. Done correctly, you can have everything from quiet conversations between husband and wife to loud shouting on the battlefield. The director, though, seems to have let this freedom to speak quietly go to his head. Almost all the dialogue is spoken in hushed whispers, and is hard to understand through the heavy accents. Mumblecore Shakespeare is not a good choice. When Duncan’s death is discovered, what should be a scene of great hurly-burly — a man was murdered in his sleep! — becomes just a bunch of guys saying, “The king is dead — huh.” And Marion Cotillard’s portrayal of Lady M is too calm and refined for a woman descending into madness, leaving a big hole where the emotional center of the play should be. There’s some shouting in the climactic battle scene, which is really thrilling, but it comes too late. It’s merely an indication of what might have been.
Unless you’re a huge Macbeth buff, this one probably isn’t worth your time.