The results are visually striking, even if beautifying carnage in this manner is distracting and complicated, both for what it means for the drama unfolding on screen and for the audience. The slow-motion scenes suggest that there’s a timeless aspect to this slaughter and, perhaps by extension, an inevitability to such violence. And if war is inevitable and eternal, what does this say about Macbeth? Then again, the carefully choreographed and filmed violence, with its flowing sword-clanging and blood-spurting, is kind of cool. You can’t look away, even when one warrior draws a blade across another’s throat — which may be another reason (or the main one) for this deceleration.
So, does Macbeth kill Duncan (David Thewlis) because of magic, fate or ambition? Or is Lady Macbeth (a mushy-mouthed Marion Cotillard), who bombards her husband with pushy exhortations (man up!) and seductively busy hands, to blame? These are the questions that, like the fog that Mr. Kurzel keeps pumping into the fray, obscure the character and that only Mr. Fassbender’s exceptionally fine performance disperses. Quietly, insistently, he pulls you to him in scene after scene, largely with a restrained intensity that, in its near-husbandly closeness, creates an intimacy between you and the character, effectively turning you into another Lady Macbeth.
Kenneth Tynan once wrote that “nobody has ever succeeded as Macbeth” because the character shrinks from a complex figure into a cowering thug. The exception, Tynan continued, immediately contradicting his claim, was Laurence Olivier, who in a 1955 production “shook hands with greatness.” With his Macbeth, Mr. Fassbender, who routinely shakes hands with greatness in films that don’t remotely do the same, produces a man whose anguish eventually becomes a powerful counterpoint to his deeds, partly because he’s already dead by the time he utters his first word. Mr. Fassbender gives you a reason to see this “Macbeth,” although the writing isn’t bad, either.
“Macbeth” is rated R (Under 17 not admitted without accompanying parent or adult guardian). Ye olde hurly-burly. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.