Tag Archives: tragedy

Review – Macbeth (15) [2015]

Macbeth - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

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To look back is a double-edged sword. To look back upon one’s achievements, mistakes and losses in order to grow as a person and to build a better future is important and valuable. Nevertheless, to look back longingly fetters an individual. Justin Kurzel’s take on Macbeth illustrates how looking back longingly can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways on people and impair them.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a battle.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a (cloudy) battle in the Scottish Highlands.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is based on the play, written by William Shakespeare. Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Michael Fassbender), receives a prophecy from three witches. They tell him that one day he will become King of Scotland and that no man of woman born will be able to kill him… although, they do warn him to be wary of Macduff (Sean Harris). Consumed by ambition and urged on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth acts to fulfil the prophecy. But at what cost?

Macbeth is a compelling and gripping film. Central to this are the performances. David Thewlis as Duncan is decent, and Sean Harris as Macduff is very good as usual. Yet, it is the two main performers that stand out. Both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are riveting. One may not always understand what they say since the movie is in Shakespearean English. But due to the strength and rawness of their performances, viewers can feel the emotion behind their words and, therefore, understand their actions.

It helps that audiences can empathise with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth straight from the off. Macbeth begins with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffering a tragic loss, and this loss never leaves them. No matter what they achieve, they are always looking back upon this loss and it devours them.

That this scene is not in the original script that Shakespeare wrote should not be of concern, even to play purists. In the play, this tragedy for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is mentioned, so it is part of the story. But by showing the event and making it the opening scene of the film, Kurzel gives the event a gravitas that is lacking in the original play.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter's arrival at Cordor.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter’s arrival at Cawdor.

This alteration from the source material is not the only instance in which Kurzel plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s version of the story. Nonetheless, for play purists to put too much stress on the alterations would be to miss what Kurzel keeps and enhances from the original play. What’s more, unlike other adaptations which have given Macbeth a more modern slant (for example, the 2013 London theatre production starring James McAvoy as the titular character), Kurzel has made his 2015 film adaptation more medieval. Consequently, the movie is bloody, grisly and muddy; all of which is fitting for the story.

In addition, with the Scottish Highlands for the main setting, Kurzel has increased the authenticity of the play. The landscapes are apt and wondrous (perhaps even worth fighting for). Yet, the weather is grim, windy and rainy. These conditions breed miserable, nasty people who are devoid of humour. Indeed, the entire movie is devoid of humour and somehow that feels right.

Indeed, Kurzel gets much right. However, his version of Macbeth is not without its flaws: the movie should have been longer than 113-minutes, and some key scenes are missing; the first twenty minutes are heavily edited, to point that one could easily believe that Kurzel has ADD; the battles are underwhelming, difficult to see, and rely too much on (300-style) slow-motion followed by super-fast, killer moves; and the final scene is jarringly out of sync with medieval times.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Nevertheless, even in the scenes where Kurzel does not get everything right, one can still be overcome by the music. The score has been written by Justin’s brother, Jed, and it resonates deeply with audiences. The music enables one to feel Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s triumphs. Yet, in the same beat, it also enables one to feel as if the couple are looking back longingly at the loss that they cannot get over.

Over-all, Macbeth is a really impressive film. The movie is not without its problems as it should have been longer, while the first twenty minutes and the last scenes should have been handled better. All the same, there is much to admire about Kurzel’s Macbeth from its gritty realism of Scotland in the late-medieval period, to the alterations that Kurzel has made from the original source material, to the astonishing performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Undoubtedly, Fassbender and Cotillard make up the best elements of the film. They depict the strength and ambition of the two characters, as well as their tragic natures. They do this by presenting what can happen to us if we look back longingly for something we’ve lost. Fassbender and Cotillard show us that this loss will eat away at us and undermine everything we achieve, even if we achieve all that we desire and more.

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Review – Titanic 3D (12a) [2012; originally released in 1997]

Star Rating: 4/5

A century has passed since the White Star Line’s ‘unsinkable’ Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, taking down 1,503 souls with her to the watery abyss. It was a tragedy, but one that still fascinates people for so many reasons. The absorbing 1997 film, re-released in 3D for the centenary of the disaster, embodies why this is the case.

Titanic’s bow at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Looks little more than a ghost ship now, with rusticles giving it an eerie feel.

Titanic centres round two central characters who board the ship as it takes off from Southampton for New York in April 1912. Rose (when old, played by Gloria Stuart; when young, played by Kate Winslet – Revolutionary Road, Contagion, Steve Jobs) is the daughter of a bankrupt aristocrat and is travelling in the luxuries of first-class. Against Rose’s will, her mother, Ruth (Frances Fisher – The Roommate, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Silent Thief), has set her up to marry Caledon ‘Cal’ Hockley (Billy Zane – Back to the Future I-II, The Roommate, The Employer), a wealthy businessman, to relieve the family of their crippling debts.

Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio – Revolutionary Road, Inception, The Wolf of Wall Street), on the other hand, is a dirt-poor artist journeying in third-class. After spending time in a variety of European cities, he is returning to America for a better life.

Whilst on the decks, Jack spots Rose on the higher levels and is instantly taken by her beauty. Yet, it is not until Rose is on the verge of jumping off the vessel’s stern that they meet. Jack urges her not to plunge to her death in the freezing waters and she follows his advice.

Subsequently, much to the envy of Cal, love blossoms between Jack and Rose… Until a cold, cloudless night when Titanic, running at full steam, strikes an iceberg.

For a film that is predominantly about a love story, Titanic is surprisingly gripping and abetted by a powerful music score, written by James Horner. Astonishingly, the film does not feel like it’s three hours and fifteen minutes long, since director/producer James Cameron (Alien, Avatar I-II, Sanctum) uses the time cleverly.

Cal (Billy Zane) and Ruth (Frances Fisher) reluctantly welcome Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) to dinner in the glorious, first-class dining hall. Rose (Kate Winslet) accompanies him, drawing the ire of her fiancé and mother.

For the two hours or so before Titanic suffers its fatal wound, Cameron ensures viewers believe the false sense of security that passengers undoubtedly felt aboard the ‘unsinkable’ ship (even though audiences know the ship’s doomed fate), and gives the characters a (clichéd) 1912-societal role, depth and humour to maintain one’s interest.

Moreover, Cameron makes the vessel hit the iceberg with (approximately) an hour and a half to go. With Thomas Andrews (Victor Garber – Legally Blonde, Milk, Argo) stating that Titanic has less than two hours afloat, it feels like one watches the ship keel in real time, instead of in a quick, artificial manner. This not only means viewers can realise the anarchy that gripped the ship as she went under; it enables one to appreciate the heroics of individuals on the night, such as the officers who sent out distress signals until Titanic’s power failed, and the life-boat stewards, like William Murdoch (who has been incorrectly portrayed as a murderer by Cameron) and Harold Lowe (Ioan Gruffudd – Fantastic I-II, Sanctum, Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box), who lowered as many boats and got as many people into them as possible, amidst the chaos.

And because Cameron has so much time, he also properly shows us the cowardice of others, like Bruce Ismay (Jonathan Hyde – The Mummy, The Tailor of Panama, Spooks), who wanted headlines so badly he imperilled the ship he named (ironically immortalising Titanic), and Edward J. Smith (Bernard Hill – The Lord of the Rings II-III, Valkyrie, Paranorm), the reckless and dithering captain, who at least had the dignity to go down with the vessel.

On the whole, the actors play their parts well, particularly Kate Winslet (even though she recently came out saying that her acting could have been better and she has a point), Frances Fisher, Gloria Stuart, Billy Zane and Kathy Bates (Misery, Midnight In Paris, Starbright), as the ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown.

However, the cast’s performances are often undermined by risible dialogue. The worst offender, by a distance, is Leonardo DiCaprio. (Not that Winslet does herself much credit by shrieking “Jack” frequently.) DiCaprio’s ability to spew out contrived lines in a desperate voice is almost an embarrassment to the victims of the disaster.

Dialogue may not be one of Cameron’s specialities (Avatar illustrated that), but as a director he cannot be questioned. The impeccable way Titanic has been filmed and flows are testimony to this. That the movie’s set is huge and that one hardly notices the numerous special effects give clout to this (apart from a couple of poor CGI shots of the bow’s nose).

After sounding like a wounded animal as water flooded the bow and lower levels, the weight of the ship’s stern finally takes its toll on the vessel, breaking it in two.

Alas, the 3D does not effectively aid the film. It is not that effort hasn’t been put in. Rather, Titanic is not the type of film wherein the 3D can enhance scenes much, other than when people are falling from the stern as the giant propellers rise monstrously from the water.

All-in-all, Titanic is an enchanting film that gives us a window into a by-gone era. The film brilliantly details many of the complexities of early-twentieth century society, with moving music and special effects that are as magnificent as the ship that left Southampton. But the movie also does the tragedy justice, pointing out the valour of some and the pusillanimity of others. This is why the fate of the ‘unsinkable’ ship will forever have the power to captivate.

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