Macbeth, 109 mins,
rated [TBA], opening in cinemas on 21 September 2006.
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published
in the September 2006 issue of The New South Wales Law Society
There have been several filmed versions of the “Scottish play,” as
superstitious theatre folk call Macbeth. The most famous are those
directed by Orson Welles (1948), Roman Polanski (1971) and Akira
Kurosawa (Throne of Blood,
1957). Variety also reports that Philip
Seymour Hoffman and Jennifer Connelly are to star in a version which
begins filming later this year. That’s quite a list. Now comes the
Australian version, directed by Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper, 1992,
Metal Skin, 1994).
Described as “adapted from William Shakespeare’s play by Geoffrey
Wright and Victoria Hill” (who also plays Lady Macbeth), this version
is set in contemporary Melbourne in the midst of gangland wars, with
Macbeth as an ambitious gang member. The film opens in the midst of a
bleak Melbourne winter, and the three witches – they are teenage
schoolgirls – dart between the headstones of a graveyard. It is such a
bravura beginning that I gasped with pleasure and recalled my similar
reaction to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996).
We next see a drug deal go wrong, and a gunfight between rival gangs
sets the scene for the political manoeuvring to follow. The characters
speak Shakespeare’s language, but this is not a complete reproduction
of the play. Much has been cut, much is shown but not spoken, and not
all of the lines are delivered in the order they appear in the play.
This Macbeth is highly
cinematic, and though the missing text did not
seem to create gaps in the narrative, the effect was slightly
unsettling. I got the impression that the rest of the world spoke
contemporary language, and only the Macbeth characters spoke
Shakespearian argot. And some of the actors handle Shakespeare’s lines
better than others. Lachy Hulme (Macduff), Steve Bastoni (Banquo) and
an unrecognisable Gary Sweet (Duncan) are superb. Others are patchy.
Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the film had only a 2-week
rehearsal period and a 25-day shooting schedule.
Nevertheless, this is a very stylish film, with outdoor scenes shot in
grey wintry tones occasionally enlivened by splashes of red, and with
gorgeously moody interior scenes. However, the style does go a bit
overboard in the costume design department. Unfortunately, Sam
Worthington as Macbeth ends up in some rather outlandish outfits,
producing snickering at the screening I attended.
This is also very violent film – but then of course Macbeth is a
violent play. The Polanski Macbeth
from 1971 is extremely violent too,
and features several nude scenes, so there’s nothing new in that. As
well as violence, there’s sex and drugs and rock & roll in the new
Macbeth. Here’s what Sam Worthington said some time ago in an interview
with Empire magazine (May
2006): “When Geoffrey [Wright] first
described this movie to me, he said he wanted it to be the most bloody
and explosive version of Macbeth you'll ever see; he wanted it to be
banned – and it's shaping up to be exactly that. Imagine Bono crossed
with a psychopathic killer, that's my inspiration for playing the
character... Man, this whole film is like getting a bullet in the
head.” Combine all that with the hand-held camerawork – sometimes on
roller-blades – and it seems clear the film makers want to appeal to
the music video crowd.
All of this sounds negative, but many things about the film appealed to
me. The cleverness of the setting among Melbourne’s crime-lords goes a
long way, although it might have helped to have a little more
background. The use of the witches is inventive and engaging, and the
adaptation is pretty well thought out. The location at Mount Macedon is
striking, particularly the use of Alton, the mansion that plays the
part of Dunsinane. It was a truly thrilling moment when Birnam Wood
came to Dunsinane. So I could forgive the over-the-top costume design
and the occasionally incongruous line delivery. On the whole, this is a
valiant and stylish attempt to bring Macbeth to new audiences. I just
hope they don’t laugh at Macbeth’s kilt!