Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

In 2004, a spate of killings in Melbourne's gangland got producer Martin Fabinyi thinking. He wanted to tell a story about the assassinations - a story about how murder, once it starts, can lead events to spiral out of control. A story of ambition, the desire for power, and the madness which feeds on it. Then he realised that the perfect example of such a story already existed. And so we get Macbeth - high speed, all action, full of guns, post punk anthems, sharp suits, fast cars and faster women. Most fans of Shakespeare's work will probably hate it, but the Bard himself would almost certainly have loved it. Subtle it is not, yet it has its finger on the pulse of what really makes this classic play appealing to the masses. It's violent, it's energetic, and it's tremendous fun.

Star ratings are always a clumsy tool to use, and in this case I found the film almost impossible to rate - some viewers will think it scarcely deserves one star, whilst others will fall head over heels in love with it. It's certainly not the Shakespeare we're used to. Though it uses only the original dialogue, this has been redistributed and substantially cut back in places to make for something which sounds more natural in modern conversation.

Copy picture

None of the actors restrain their accents and the result is something which works surprisingly well, with the archaic vocabulary coming across like affected gangland slang, reminiscent of Michael Lehmann's famous constructed school dialect in Heathers. The confidence with which it is handled is endearing and involving, so that soon one forgets the history of the piece and starts to engage with it properly as a story. The youth of the characters is entirely appropriate to the gangland setting (and probably closer to original interpretations than most of what we're now used to), and it lends the tale enormous energy as well as making the emotional vulnerability of the central characters more believable.

As you might expect, much of this film does come across as extremely cheesy, though many viewers will find this entertaining rather than annoying. The floaty dresses and graveyard settings make it look like a bad nu-metal album cover and the director really gos over the top with pop video style fast edits, trying to cram in as much use of modern technology as possible. The cleverness of some of this is undermined by its sheer volume.

Similarly, the film is far too heavy-handed with some points which Shakespeare deliberately only hinted at. The hypersexual schoolgirl witches who may or may not be a figment of Macbeth's imagination are reminiscent of Seventies hallucinatory pseudo-erotica, whilst Lady Macbeth's grief over her lost child is so melodramatic that it's hard not to laugh. Victoria Hill is, indeed, the weakest point in the film, all awkward pouting and overwrought angst. Sam Worthington, on the other hand, makes a convincing, if showy, Macbeth, and Gary Sweet works well as Duncan, making him more human than usual without giving up any of his authority.

No doubt many film fans will feel that DV has a lot to answer for, but this kind of film, shot on next to no budget in just 25 days, is a great example of why we need it. Like it or loathe it, Macbeth is just the kind of daring new interpretation which the film industry needs to keep it moving. Shot almost entirely with hand held cameras, at odd angles and with deliciously rich colours, its visual approach mirrors its hero's weakening grip on reality. It's genuinely creative and clearly the product of real passion. That's a rare thing these days, and worthy of attention even when it doesn't get everything right.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
Share this with others on...
Macbeth packshot
Shakespeare's classic tale relocated in modern urban Melbourne.
Amazon link

Director: Geoffrey Wright

Writer: Victoria Hill, based on the play by William Shakespeare

Starring: Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Lachy Hulme, Gary Sweet, Steve Bastoni, Matt Doran

Year: 2006

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia


CFF 2007

Search database: