Review: Red-drenched ‘Macbeth’ tracks carnage of power

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“MacBeth” is serious business indeed, and in the hands of director Justin Kurzel, it becomes bloody serious business. Very bloody serious business.

Not that Kurzel is necessarily overboard, he just has the wonders of modern cinematography and special effects to work with, as well as a modern audience that’s grown accustomed to fierce violence on screen. What’s interesting is that in amongst all the splatter, Michael Fassbender, as the title character, and Marion Cotillard, as scheming Lady MacBeth, offer (comparatively) controlled performances.

Shakespeare’s tale has been around for a while — it’s almost startling to hear how many now-common phrases are born of this play — but it’s surprisingly linear. MacBeth, after winning a fierce opening battle, is told by three witches (who don’t look terribly witch-like here) that he’s destined to be king. So, at his wife’s urging, he slaughters the current king (David Thewlis) in his sleep.

He then sets about murdering anyone else who might have designs on his throne, or anyone who defies him, or anyone he thinks might defy him. Thankfully, the film doesn’t get too graphic with the burning at the stake of the wife and children of MacBeth’s ultimate foe, Macduff (Sean Harris), but still … he’s burning children.

All of which drives MacBeth quite mad as he sees ghosts and imagines plots. The film ends in a fiery red glow, as a forest burns and Macduff and Macbeth hack at one another, drawing much blood, red upon red upon red.

The final image is of a boy emerging from the flames, a child who the witches have predicted will be king. He looks at the carnage of politics and power and heads back into the flames, as if to say, “To heck with that.”



Rated R for strong violence and brief sexuality

Running time: 113 minutes