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1 item from 2006


11 September 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

SYDNEY -- Baz Luhrmann set the bar high for maverick adaptations of Shakespeare, but fellow Aussie director Geoffrey Wright takes a game leap at it with his postmodern rendering of Macbeth. While this juiced-up, drugs 'n' guns reworking can't match the startling originality or sheer mad spectacle of Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet," the two share a sexy swagger aimed at young viewers who might otherwise balk at the 400-year-old language.

Absent Hollywood stars in the league of Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, Macbeth can't expect "Romeo + Juliet's" robust international boxoffice, but receipts should be healthy at home, and the heady mix of nudity, uber-violence and a swoonworthy leading man will stir curiosity abroad.

This is Shakespeare as action film -- furiously paced and unapologetically cinematic. If the baroque sets and costumes often overwhelm the acting, it's unlikely the hipsters will mind. Wright, who directed Russell Crowe in the bruising neo-Nazi film Romper Stomper, has matched the sound and fury of the Bard's most bloodthirsty play with depictions of carnage that border on sadistic.

The slaying of Lady Macduff and her son prompted walk-outs in test screenings. Macbeth's frenzied butchering of Duncan, a murder that occurs offstage in the play, is shown here in gruesome detail.

Throw in a casually naked, coke-snorting Lady Macbeth and an orgy with the three witches -- portrayed as bare-breasted teenagers who look like they wandered in from The O.C. -- and you have a Macbeth that would give Roman Polanski pause.

Shakespeare's immortal tragedy about a Scottish prince's murderous quest for power has been relocated to the underworld of Melbourne's present-day gang wars, where the concept of bloody vengeance mirrors that of feudal times.

Macbeth (a lusty performance from Somersault's Sam Worthington) is now henchman to crime boss Duncan (a strong Gary Sweet), and the play's lords and noblemen become rock-star-ready hoods packing heat. The film opens with a flashily edited massacre following a dead-of-night drug deal, and it is a good 10 minutes before the first word is spoken.

The Elizabethan English jars at first (and some heavy Strine accents add another layer of bizarre), but soon the medieval-chic sets, the sleek black SUVs and machine guns and the florid but conversationally spoken language all mesh into a gothic parallel universe that makes its own kind of sense.

It is a bit Reservoir Dogs with a set borrowed from The Crow.

It helps that the original text is magnificent and the plot so precise; Wright and his co-writer Victoria Hill (who also plays a glamorous Lady Macbeth) have produced a fairly faithful, if heavily edited, reading of this timeless tale.

Duncan rewards Macbeth for his service during the earlier battle but, while under the influence of celebratory drugs and alcohol at a derelict nightclub, our hero is visited by the trio of witches who prophesy a much greater prize -- delivering their "fair is foul" speech as a glitter ball spins overhead.

Spurred on by the poisonously ambitious Lady Macbeth, Macbeth kills Duncan and seizes power. As the new crime lord's reign of terror continues and the body count grows, guilt plunges him into madness. With Worthington exhibiting less of the imperial hubris that defined previous Macbeths and more of a wild-eyed, Jack Black-style craziness that proves the film's weakest link.

Staggering drunkenly about his country mansion, dissolute and spooked while those around him plot revenge, the character discourages sympathy. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, acquires an uncommon vulnerability with the implication that she is grieving the loss of a child.

Production design is as wicked as the narrative, all blood-red furnishings and misty, brooding exteriors, with John Clifford White's clamorous soundtrack and cinematographer Will Gibson's skewed camera adding to the disquiet.

Some of the minor players stumble over the dialogue, but performances generally are strong, though style mavens may be too busy drooling over the voguish costumes and opulent interiors to notice.


Mushroom Pictures


Director: Geoffrey Wright

Screenwriters: Geoffrey Wright, Victoria Hill

Adapted from the play by: William Shakespeare

Producer: Martin Fabinyi

Executive producers: Michael Gudinski, Gary Hamilton, Greg Sitch, Antonio Zeccola

Director of photography: Will Gibson

Production designer: David McKay

Music: John Clifford White

Co-producer: Jenni Tosi

Costume designer: Jane Johnston

Editor: Jane Usher


Macbeth: Sam Worthington

Lady Macbeth: Victoria Hill

Macduff: Lachy Hulme

Banquo: Steve Bastoni

Duncan: Gary Sweet

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 109 minutes »

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1 item from 2006

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