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'Macbeth': Director Justin Kurzel is big on bluster and broadsword battles

Michael Fassbender's Macbeth is impressively staunch, though he has to fight a lot of sound and fury to get a word in edgewise, and Marion Cotillard's Lady Macbeth is a triumph.

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'Macbeth' stars Michael Fassbender (l.) and Marion Cotillard (r.).

Jonathan Olley/The Weinstein Company/AP

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“Macbeth” is one of Shakespeare’s most “cinematic” plays, and it has thus far received three movie adaptations of note: the Orson Welles and Roman Polanski versions and, perhaps best of all, Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood,” which dispenses with the language but has a visual poetry at times equal to the Bard’s words. (Criterion, by the way, has just issued a stunning DVD of Kurosawa’s film.) 

The latest entry is Justin Kurzel’s adaption, starring Michael Fassbender as the thane who would be king, and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. The screenplay is credited to Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, and Michael Lesslie, who trimmed the play and added some dialogueless busywork. You would think Shakespeare would get top billing here, not to mention in the ads for the film. 

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Kurzel is big on bluster and the clangor of slo-mo broadsword battles. Mud-caked Dark Ages vistas predominate. Fassbender has to fight all this sound and fury to get a word in edgewise, but he’s impressively staunch, though, like most Macbeths on stage and in film, his psychological complexities diminish as his bloodlust expands. Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth, however, is a triumph. She seems transfixed by her own capacity for evil, and her mad scene is one of the most unhistrionic, and therefore spookiest, ever filmed. Grade: B (Rated R for strong violence and brief sexuality)