By Jeremiah Kipp
Roman Polanski has seen his share of violence in the real world, so it's not too surprising that the Shakespearian play he opted to direct was Macbeth, which follows a series of bloody murders and a rapidly descent into madness. Made shortly after the Sharon Tate murders, there's a disturbing resonance when Macbeth's gang of wild-eyed assassins butchers noble MacDuff's wife and children.
The production design is murky, as though everything were taking place after a storm, with the actors wearing drab brown under heavy, tangled hair and beards. Everyone looks grim and unhappy, and they don't emote very much. The killers, including Jon Finch's Macbeth, stumble semi-moronically into their choices -- even would-be good guy MacDuff (Terence Bayler) comes off as less of a heroic avenger than an ignorant thug.
The performances are serviceable, with Francesca Annis standing out as a sexually charged Lady M (who gained her fair share of notoriety for performing the "Out damned spot," scene in the nude -- va va voom!). Still, it's not really an actor's movie. Polanski is more concerned with creating an oppressive mood of mundane evil -- the type of world where people don't have very much ambition, and if they do pursue something their motivations are as muddled and unclear as their actions. When Macbeth realizes, finally, that he may be in over his head, his decisions are made like animals in danger protecting their own skin. It's not Shakespeare for Dummies, but it kind of feels like they're rats running around in a maze. Take that damning praise however you want to.
The soggy pace is both a strength and weakness, which makes for a radically original interpretation but creates the challenge of staying fascinated with a protagonist who is a killer, a liar, and a blundering fool living in a world of other cheaters and bastards. (Then again, the Reservoir Dogs weren't so bright either if you think about it.) One doesn't feel sympathy for these curs, and the only fascination is the same feeling one gets in studying amoebae under the microscope. It's a neat case study if you go for that sort of thing.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 13th October 1971
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production compaines: Playboy Productions, Caliban Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 4
Cast & Crew