Justin Kurzel's is a Macbeth stripped of lit-class ponderousness, stage-bound declaiming, Ren Fest cosplay, and prestige-film pomposity. It is the essence of this cruelest of plays, the blade unsheathed — and, as a blade would be after hacking through all these Scottish wars, its edge is blunt, rough, a thing to gut with rather than slice smoothly. This is a Macbeth to sink into and shrink from, not one to parse. There's poetry among the witchery and warfare, and not just in the speeches. (Unlike the swords, the words remain whetted.)
It's in Kurzel's mist-choked Highlands, the piss-yellow skies, the way the moon burns through a scrim of cloud, the waft and drift of snow and ash and ember. It's in the way Kurzel's witches, the traditional trio plus a knee-high trainee, stand atop their world's spine, swathed in their black robes but also in the fogging breath of the day or the night or the netherplace in between in which this story broods and bleeds. And it's always there in the fire, which is both life and death in a world so pressed in by darkness that the snuffing of a candle truly is the snuffing of all light.
So this Macbeth will enjoy a long post-theatrical afterlife of not being much help for students. Marion Cotillard, as the brains behind the grisly business of thane-promotion, finds all the grim power in the lines about dashing a baby's brains out, but Michael Fassbender, so tigerish yet haunted throughout, takes a knee on the climactic tomorrow/tomorrow speech. It's as if he and Kurzel have decided that it's enough just to get this most despairing of all verse spoken out loud.