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Macbeth | DVD Review

Wright propels the story with a style that is equal parts crime thriller, action movie, and horror. The loose handheld camerawork and precise editing is theatrical enough to match the Bard’s poetry…

For Season 3 of “Project Greenlight”, finalists were given a script with dialogue, but no direction, and they were asked to film it. They could have handed them a few pages out of Shakespeare and accomplished the same thing. As complex the plots and language crafted by history’s most enduring playwright, his plays can be adapted into any filmmaking aesthetic. There have been traditional, period piece adaptations, but there’s also been a slacker Hamlet, the scholcky pierced-tongue-in-cheek Tromeo & Juliet, and the uncategorizable world of auteur Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. And now, from filmmaker Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper), we have the ultra-violent neo-noirish Macbeth.

For those unfamiliar with the general story, Macbeth is a loyal but subservient member of the ruling class. He encounters three witches who tell him he is destined for greatness, and with the encouragement of his wife, murders his king to assume the throne. He is forced to kill again and again as he struggles to remain in control, and his ambition leads to his downfall.

The dialogue and plot have are directly ported from the 16th century, but the setting has been changed to a sleek modern Melbourne. Macbeth (Sam Worthington) has scruffy rock star looks, dresses in designer clothing, and is a reliable member of an organized crime syndicate. Duels are not carried out with swords, but with automatic weapons, entourages of black-leather clad bodyguards, and lots and lots of bullets. Daggers however, have not lost any of their popularity, and are the preferred weapon of choice for murder. Lady Macbeth (co-writer Victoria Hill) is pale, heartbroken, and self-medicating to cope with the loss of her child, but Hill expertly adds an element slinky femme fatale into her character, and perfectly captures both the allure and the danger of an irreparably damaged woman. The witches are not three old hags, but three nubile young gothic schoolgirls (The film opens with an incredibly twisted sequence where the witches deface graves with tools and spray paint while Macbeth and his wife lay flowers on their child’s grave).

Wright propels the story with a style that is equal parts crime thriller, action movie, and horror. The loose handheld camerawork and precise editing is theatrical enough to match the Bard’s poetry, and the film’s gun battles are more reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels than John Woo’s Hardboiled. Like the play, there is a heavy supernatural overtone, though it kept ambiguous whether it is real or hallucinatory. Macbeth’s encounters with the witches are surreal dream sequences, painted in sweat and heavy with lust. Are the three pale, tattooed nymphs real, or figments of an acid-induced wet dream? There’s no shortage of horror, either, and Wright lays on a thick layer of expressionistic shadows and fog, and creepy imagery like a child’s swing creaking back and forth under moonlight. Indoors, he employees dozens of candles and firelight to give everything a hellish glow, especially during the ghastly murder scene where Macbeth wields two daggers against his sleeping boss.

Bonus features are slim. Three trailers, one of which is for Macbeth, and a making of featurette comprised of brief interviews with Wright, Worthington, and Hill, with minimal behind-the-scenes footage tossed in. Closed captioning and audio options are also available.

Wright definitely strikes the right balance blending Shakespearean dialogue with his poetry-in-motion camerawork and a moody visual style that rivals Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Macbeth (Polanski would have approved of Wright’s casting choices for the three witches). Monologues, which onstage address the audience directly, are employed as voiceovers, and work particularly well. Worthington is great in the leading role, adding an element of boyishness to Macbeth that helps keep the story a tragedy.

Movie rating – 3.5

Disc Rating – 1

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