“MACBETH” (2006) Review
Over the years, a good number of filmmakers, novelists and playwrights have taken William Shakespeare’s plays and presented them in a different setting or with a twist. One such movie that comes to mind is the 1957 Broadway musical,”WEST SIDE STORY”, which became an Oscar winning 1961 movie. The directors of both the play and the movie took Shakespeare’s ”ROMEO AND JULIET”, set it on the mean streets of Lower East Manhattan and gave it a different ending. Kenneth Branaugh’s 1996 version of ”HAMLET” was set in the late 19th century. And there have been two versions of ”THE TAMING OF THE SHREW” in which one movie was set at a Seattle high school and the other within an African-American family of sisters and their spouses. Director Geoffrey Wright did something similar with his 2006 adaptation of ”MACBETH”, which starred Sam Worthington and Victoria Hill.
In other words, what Wright did was retold the story of Macbeth as a crime story set in modern day Melbourne, Australia. Instead of a Scottish lord, Macbeth was an underboss of a powerful Melbourne gangster named Duncan. After leading Duncan’s gang in a drug deal that ended with the violent deaths of his boss’ rival – Macdonwald, Macbeth found a few pills inside of one of Macdonwald’s nightclubs and partook them. During Macbeth’s drug trip, he learned from three witches dressed as schoolgirls that he would one day assume total control of Duncan’s gang. But his wife, Lady Macbeth dismissed the prophecy, claiming that Macbeth lacked the ambition and drive to take control of the gang from Duncan. But when she learned that the gang leader would be staying overnight at their home, following a party, Lady Macbeth convinced her husband to kill Duncan, frame his bodyguards and assume control of the gang. Which is exactly what happened. After the other gang members elected Macbeth as their new leader, the new gang lord struggled with the suspicions of others, Lady Macbeth’s mental decline and his own paranoia and guilt.
”MACBETH” would have slipped my notice if someone had not mentioned it on a LIVE JOURNAL blog for actor Sam Worthington. And I am glad that someone did. ”MACBETH” turned out to be somewhat better than I had expected. It was not the best film adaptation of a Shakespeare play I have ever seen. But I thought that Wright and actress Victoria Hill (who also served as co-writer) did a solid job retelling the play in a more modern setting. Both Wright and Hill managed to achieve this without a long running time for the movie. They also did a solid job in creating a decent crime story about power, greed and betrayal.
I am certain that some of you have noticed that I have used the word ”solid” a lot to describe the movie. But that is how I feel about it. ”MACBETH” was certainly not a terrible film. However, I would never consider it to be a favorite of mine. I had some problems with it. One, Will Gibson’s photography seemed rather dark and a bit on the gloomy side. Aside from Macbeth’s first meeting with the three witches at a cemetery, most of the movie’s scenes seemed to feature interior shots or a night time setting. I really do not know what to say about John Clifford White’s score. That I barely noticed it? There were times I began to wonder if the movie actually had a score – except in two scenes that featured the party Macbeth held for Duncan and the final sequence featuring the gang’s attack upon Macbeth at his home. Earlier, I had congratulated Wright and Hill for writing a screenplay that did not result in a long running time. However, Wright’s direction still managed to drag the film with occasional slow pacing throughout the movie. Between the minimal score, White’s dim lighting and Wright’s pacing, there were moments when I found it damn hard to stay awake.
The cast seemed pretty solid (ah, there is that word again). I was impressed by the three actresses who portrayed the witches – Chloe Armstrong, Kate Bell and Miranda Nation. They harbored a surprising mixture of sexual allure and menace. Their orgy scene with Worthington seemed . . . hell, I do not know how to describe that sequence. All I can say that it seemed odd. Matt Doran gave an intense performance as Malcolm, son of the murdered Duncan, who had suspected Macbeth for killing his father from the beginning. But I might as well be frank. When it comes to”MACBETH”, only the actor in the titled role and the actress portraying Lady Macbeth matter to me.
I would have never considered Sam Worthington to portray a Shakespearian role. Honestly, I never would. Look, I am well aware that he is a talented actor with a strong screen presence. But he simply never struck me as the type to do Shakespeare. Yet, he did an admirable job in his portrayal of the underboss who managed to get over his head following his coup d’etat against his boss, thanks to his wife’s ambitions and his own paranoia. Mind you, there were times I thought Worthington seemed a bit too young for the role. He must have been 28 or 29 years old when he shot this film. I would have preferred for him to tackle the role in another three or four years – like now. And I must admit that I found his portrayal of Macbeth’s descent into madness in his last scenes not very convincing. However, he still did a pretty good job. And he must have been one of the few actors who were not inclined to perform Shakespeare in front of a camera at the top of his lungs – like many other performers seemed inclined to do. For that I am grateful.
And I am also grateful to Victoria Hill for refraining from indulging in any acting histrionics. Like Worthington, she managed to spout her Shakespeare without indulging in any theatrical hamminess. But I would also like to add that I found her performance as Lady Macbeth to be mesmerizing. Honestly. I really enjoyed the subtle manner in which her Lady Macbeth drew the lead character into a murder scheme that would prove to be overwhelming for them both. In fact, one of her best scenes featured Lady Macbeth manipulating Macbeth into committing murder. Another favorite scene focused upon her reaction to Macbeth’s failure to originally kill Duncan’s bodyguards. Again, she managed to convey a great deal of emotion and passion without any histrionics. But my favorite scene featured the one in which her Lady Macbeth not only helped her husband carry out the coup d’etat against Duncan, she seemed to be in control of the entire operation. And Hill performed that entire scene with an interesting, yet complex mixture of cool resourcefulness and wariness. I can honestly say that she probably gave the best performance in the movie. She seemed more suited for her role than Worthington did for his.
I will never consider ”MACBETH” to be a personal favorite of mine. I rather doubt that I would ever have an inclination to watch it again. Will Gibson’s photography struck me as a bit too dark and gloomy – probably unnecessarily so. John Clifford White’s minimal score nearly put me to sleep. And so did Geoffrey Wright’s pacing of the film. And despite Sam Worthington’s solid performance, he did seem a bit too young for the title role of Macbeth.
However, I must admit that Wright managed to do decent job in transforming the story’s setting from medieval Scotland to the ganglands of Melbourne. None of the cast members indulged in histrionic acting as many other actors tend to do, while performing Shakespeare in front of a camera. Worthington still managed to give a good performance. And he was supported by a superb performance by Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth. In the end, I can honestly say that this version of ”MACBETH” was not a bad movie.