Macbeth

When it comes to murder and mayhem, betrayal and deceit, crime and cosmic comeuppance, not to mention insomnia, you really can't beat Macbeth. There's a reason it's been filmed so often and in so many settings: feudal Japan (THRONE OF BLOOD), Brooklyn biker gangs (TEENAGE GANG DEBS), the mob (MEN OF RESPECT), a suburban fast-food restaurant (SCOTLAND, PA),...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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When it comes to murder and mayhem, betrayal and deceit, crime and cosmic comeuppance, not to mention insomnia, you really can't beat Macbeth. There's a reason it's been filmed so often and in so many settings: feudal Japan (THRONE OF BLOOD), Brooklyn biker gangs (TEENAGE GANG DEBS), the mob (MEN OF RESPECT), a suburban fast-food restaurant (SCOTLAND, PA), the 24-hour party scene (RAVE MACBETH), the Mumbai underworld (Vishal Bharadwaj's MAQBOOL). Australian director Geoffrey Wright (ROMPER STOMPER) sets his take on Shakespeare's famous "Scottish Play" in present-day Melbourne, where a bloody power struggle is set to explode within a violent gang of sharp-dressed mobsters.

After a brutal street battle, Macbeth (Sam Worthington) and his best bro Banquo (Steve Bastoni) nab Cawdor (George Vidalis), a fellow gang member who has been dealing drugs out of his nightclub and conspiring against gang-leader Duncan (Gary Sweet). To celebrate the capture, Macbeth samples Cawdor's hallucinogenic wares and has a vision on Cawdor's dance floor of three weird sisters (Chloe Armstrong, Kate Bell, Miranda Nation), who offer him a peek into his future: Macbeth will not only take Cawdor's place, but will one day be crowned king, despite the fact that Duncan and Duncan's natural successor, his son Malcolm (Matt Doran), are both alive and well. But, the sisters hasten to add, it will be Banquo, not Macbeth, who will beget future kings. True to the first part of the prophecy, a grateful Duncan promotes Macbeth to the spot vacated by Cawdor, and when Macbeth shares the good news with his drugged and drowsy wife (Wright's coscreenwriter, Victoria Hill), she sees no reason why the second part shouldn't also come to pass — unless, of course, Macbeth isn't man enough to make it happen. Macbeth gets the opportunity to prove his manhood the night Duncan and his entourage arrive at the Macbeth's home for a drunken sleepover. When Macbeth has second thoughts about killing his boss, Mrs. Macbeth, a hard case if ever there was one, once again challenges his masculinity. And so Macbeth acts, in the most cowardly way imaginable: He stabs the trusting Duncan to death as he sleeps, a guest in his home; Mrs. Macbeth, meanwhile, frames Duncan's two bodyguards by smearing their faces with blood and planting the bloody daggers on their persons. When the crime is discovered by loyal lieutenant Macduff (Lachy Hulme), Macbeth, in a show of false outrage, shoots the patsies. Malcolm, certain he'll be accused of being the ambitious mastermind behind a plot to murder his father, goes into hiding. True to the weird sisters' prophecy, Macbeth is now set to become king, but the crown comes with a terrible price.

Wright's adaptation uses the Bard's original dialogue, but unlike compatriot Baz Luhrmann's audacious take on Romeo and Juliet, Wright jettisons a lot of it in favor of silent action sequences, leaving only the parts that can be most realistically adapted to his story. The famous soliloquies are heard in voice-over — a risky idea that works — and Wright has found clever ways of naturalizing the play's more supernatural elements: The spectral dagger that Macbeth sees before him is shown to be a shadow cast by the leaves of a yucca plant, while Banquo's ghost at the dinner table is a mirror's reflection glimpsed by a sleep-deprived madman. But the exercise doesn't really flush out any heretofore undisclosed understanding of the text: It simply reiterates the fact that while times change, crime stays the same.

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