WILL AND ME: Macbeth (2006's Aussie Version) Review
MACBETH (THE AUSTRALIAN VERSION) REVIEW
CAST: Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Steve Bastoni, Lachy Hulme, Mick Malloy, Kate Bell, Chloe Armstrong, Miranda Nation, Gary Sweet, Bob Franklin.
Writers—Geoffrey Wright and Victoria Hill; adapted from the play by William Shakespeare
Australia….not the sort of country that one would see as a cultural society….
As a nation built around surfing, Aussie Rules Football and an APPALLING drinking problem, you never would think that the continent formerly known as New Holland would have a proud history of theatre, art and literature, let alone being a place that could analyse classic fiction or plays and interpret them in a knowledgeable and creative light. However, one Australian citizen was daring enough to prove to the people who have that negative opinion of Australia that we are a country that can break away from our current reputation and bring the world something new. Something that Australia has never been associated with the before.
That Australian citizen was director Geoffrey Wright (of Romper Stomper fame); and his end result was a modern reimagining of Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, Macbeth. (Or sometimes referred to as “The Scottish Play” due to the notorious belief that because of the play’s disturbing themes regarding one’s sanity and blood lust, bad luck is brought upon those who say the play’s title out loud, especially within the radius of a theatre.) After years of the brits and the yanks being granted the right to modernize The Scottish Play for film and the stage, it was now “the lucky country’s” turn to bring new life into a 400 year old story about how lust for power can corrupt the most innocent of minds.
After years of being a powerless second banana to the dull and boring mob leader King Duncan (Gary Sweet), Melbourne based gangland figure Macbeth (Sam Worthington of Avatar fame) is visited by three weird sisters (Kate Bell, Chloe Armstrong and Miranda Nation) during the mass slaughter of a rival gang in Docklands, and tell him that he’ll become the most powerful figure in the criminal underworld….just as long that he eliminates whoever is standing in his way.
After much persuasion from his power hungry wife (Victoria Hill), Macbeth murders his leader in his sleep and becomes the most powerful man in the city. But with his new power, comes a great long episode of paranoia as he starts to suspect that his fellow gangland members are out to get him and take over his reign before it could even begin. As a result, Macbeth orders the many assassinations of those he considers trouble, allowing his powers as leader to go to his head, and his guilt of murdering Duncan to lead to his insanity and his ultimate downfall.
Geoffrey Wright’s portrayal of the story of King Macbeth is truly something that you would never see in Australian cinema ever again. He eliminates all the “traditional” associations with the sun burnt country, and brings us an ultimate psychological tale worthy of Alfred Hitchcock, The Hughes Brothers or Tim Burton. We are shown a side of Australia that’s gothic, moody, misty, surreal and unbelievably artistic. Something that’s rarely shown in a local industry based around Australian’s farming, seaside and pub culture!
With the help of William Shakespeare and a director who is known for seeing the dark side beneath Australia’s faux sunny image, we are given a film that gives our lazy country an arthouse and cultural feel. Wright’s direction is completely flawless (in most parts); the cinematography fits the text well (even going as far as actually resembling the same bleak eeriness that audiences must have felt when the play was assumingly performed in 1611); the script is PERFECTLY adapted and edited without causing any harm to the bard’s original text, and makes great use of symbolism and quirky re-imagining of the many soliloquies (such as the famous dagger speech being re-done as a shadow instead of a ghostly hallucination, which, in my mind, is the most cleverest things I could ever see on film); and of course, we must give credit to the players of the piece, for they (being people in a procession where they don’t have to worry about the Aussie stereotypes because of them having to be different people and nationalities any way to make a bob) bring us performances that truly deserves the ancient old compliment: “That was top notch. First class stuff!”
With a cast of familiar faces, this film shows that even a place like Australia can spit out the best actors who ever lived; and considering the fact that the players of this film are household names (whether it be before or after making of 2006’s Macbeth), it is also a treat to see the actor from Avatar or the actor from Offspring pushing their limits with roles that bring out sides to them that we never knew existed. (I was completely blown away by how serious an actor Mick Malloy can be. For a comedian who is famous for the burst laughing performances in Crackerjack and The Jesters, Malloy (playing Macbeth’s personal assassin/murderer) surely does show that he’s not afraid to bring out his darker side in projects that’s way beyond his usual comedic flicks. And funny enough, he also enters the project with a natural born talent for Shakespearean roles and the Elizabethan language. He’s definitely a performer who should do Shakespeare more often. Like, he might make a perfect Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, a brilliant Sir Toby Belch or Malvolio in Twelfth Night, a Helpmann Award winning Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV, or a tear jerking Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet. Mick Malloy is basically an Orson Welles or Sir Patrick Stewart in need of a much better agent.)
After seeing this film, I think Australian actors do a better job at performing Shakespeare than the British or the Americans. The acting is really powerful to watch….
….but sadly, that’s only with the males. The females on the other hand are a major disappointment. And this is where the film its weak aspect: The casting of Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth was a disaster waiting to happen (especially that she only got the role because she co-wrote the screenplay and not through a professional audition process!) From start to finish of her story arch, we are given a Lady Macbeth as bland and underwhelming as chalk drawn graffiti written by members of the Occupy Melbourne Movement. Hill’s performance just gives out the impression of someone who’s working in the shadow of the character than being character: I felt like I was watching a Lady Macbeth in an amateur production of the play….or worse, a Lady Macbeth from a poorly written and unfunny Saturday Night Live sketch. (Oh wait a minute! That’s ALL of their sketches in general!) So for those hoping to see the actress from December Boys present a moving and powerful portrayal of the most manipulative women in the English language, well then, you are very much mistaken. (If the famous “Out damn spot” scene is you favourite moment in the entire play, you’ll be let down like never before. Realistically, Worthington does a better job with Macbeth’s decent into insanity than Hill with the wife’s decent into insanity!)
The weird sisters (a.k.a—“The Three Witches”) in this version of Macbeth are annoying to watch and inappropriately sexed up. They are portrayed as naughty school girls with an abnormally high sex drive, very little clothing on their backs and an unnecessary desire to boink Macbeth’s brains out. (Which, pointlessly enough, they do!) In the original play, the three sisters were characters whose presence and association with black magic was an ahead-of-its-time horror element that made the hearts of the audience beat faster than ever and send chills down your spine in both the many productions of the play and its notorious screen adaptations. But in this version, they are reduced to mere sluts who do not leave an impact on you, other than: “What was wrong with the original idea of making them old crones? Wrinkled witches still would work in the 21st century setting.” (It’s an utter disgrace!)
Geoffrey Wright’s Macbeth is an ambitious project that really does pay off. Though the portrayals of Lady Macbeth and the trio of “f***ed up fortune tellers” are underwhelming and butchered, the rest of the film is cinematic eye candy, with a great list of Aussie actors and direction that stands out amongst all the other flicks that the Australian film industry has given us over the years. It knows what parts of Shakespeare’s script should be modernized, which parts should be edited, and which parts should be left alone. (Unlike Richard Loncraine’s interpretation of Richard III, which, frankly, only got positive reviews because it was filmed at a time that updated versions of Shakespeare were rarely seen on screen. Now that more modernized versions of Shakespeare have come out, Wright’s interpretation of Macbeth is, by far, the most superior of all the modernized reimaginings of the bard’s first folio.)
Macbeth, 2006—well worth a look and deserves to be called “a cinematic classic.”