Dir: Geoffrey Wright
In the Shakespeare canon, reinterpretation is like adrenaline. The bard’s
plays have endlessly been folded, cut and crumpled into new shapes, deviant
forms. So it’s not a shock to see Macbeth transposed onto modern Melbourne,
where feudal kingdoms become drug organizations and the Castle Dunsinane a
Ideally, this would be a return to form for director Geoffrey Wright, who
made his mark all those years ago with Romper Stomper. In ways it is. The
digital video format makes the images immediate, though sometimes too much
so as scenes occasionally feel cheap. And this Macbeth is graphically
violent but not exploitative. The murder of Macbeth’s liege Duncan, no
onger settled offstage, is blood-soaked and intense, and the blood soaks
into Sam Worthington’s performance to stain the compromised king.
For the handful of elements that work, however, I was never fully drawn into
version. Perhaps it’s not radical enough, despite cutting characters and
action. Perhaps it’s that, unlike Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, Wright
doesn’t add new meaning to the text by way of the modern setting. What do we
get out of the story, thanks to the modern underworld? Accessibility is the
only real answer, and since the dialogue is Shakespeare’s original text,
even that factor is low.
For that matter, why retain the original text? It doesn’t make sense here;
there’s no collusion between setting and text. And perhaps I’m too hopeful,
but it seems the gangland aspects could have been cast as critique of
violent cinema, something that might not be meaningful in a broad sense, but
could better ground the mesh of ideas.
I also felt that Wright cheated a bit – almost all of the play’s monologues
are performed as voice-overs. So we’re not given the opportunity to see the
cast dig into those most fertile moments of introspection. That would be
more acceptable if they weren’t any good, but they often are, especially
Steve Bastoni and Banquo and Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth.
I suppose Richard III is an unfair reference point, since it’s not bound to
pure realism, and in modern dramas, the monologue is so frequently performed
as a voice over. But Wright is clever about staging other moments —
Macbeth’s vision of the dagger is understated and perfect despite the
voice-over — so why not extend that staging?
In the end it was probably those questions about formal choices that spoiled
the film for me. I expect someone will take a chance on this Macbeth, but
all I found was a veneer of daring laid over the same old thing.
5 out of 10