All hail one note. Featuring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender.
As a learning actor, any director worth their salt will teach you never to play the end – to allow your knowledge of the end of a line or a scene inform the way you begin it. Every thought your character has, every word they speak, every action they carry out must be given it’s due time, rather than skipping ahead to the ‘intense,’ ‘emotional’ or ‘interesting’ parts. By playing the end, you deny your character their journey and so too the audiences ability to come along on it and empathise with them.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened when I watched Macbeth. Yes, of course we all already know the story. There’s nothing new to tell in terms of plot. So naturally, in any retelling of a classic story, the focus falls on how to share it differently from the times before. The director asks themselves, what new angle can we take?
In the case of Macbeth, I think director Justin Kurzel’s focus was an attempt at looking more deeply at the emotional ramifications that come upon the story’s central characters as a result of Macbeth’s murderous act(s). Much of Shakespeare’s text is in fact eschewed in favour of placing Macbeth & Lady M under the microscope. It’s a fair perspective, and had it been done effectively, would’ve been quite a refreshing one, looking less at the classic one-liners and more at the disintegration of a human.
But where was the direction? Perhaps it was spent more on making settings beautiful, fight scenes majestic, and slow-mo shots stunning. But all the beauty in the world won’t make a production engaging. That’s why in the theatre, Macbeth’s true home, even a production where the actors wear stage blacks and perform in a bare studio can have the same impact as a production staged with all the trimmings at the National Theatre. As long as it’s performed well, it doesn’t matter what you layer on top; likewise, if it’s not performed well, the dressings will do little to save you.
We all know Cotillard and Fassbender are strong performers, that’s a mute point. The issue here was the eyes behind the camera guiding these actors to elicit variation, dynamics and above all, change. Because quite simply, there was none. By assuming that we already knew what was going on and thus focusing not on action, but on the devastating emotional toll of the act, Kurzel seems to have his actors play nothing but devastation. From beginning to end. At times I felt like the film was merely a competition between Fassbender and Cotillard to see who could go longer in a scene without blinking. Cue intense stares.
I’ve seen actors give a one-note performance before, but I’ve never seen an entire film played on one note. Or perhaps I have, and it was clearly just as forgettable as this disappointing rendition of Macbeth.
RATING: 2/5 **