The Bard Strips Down



"Fair is foul, and foul is fair," note the three witches in Macbeth's opening act, and that is a justifiable critique of director Geoffrey Wright's audacious adaptation of the ultimate tale of untethered ambition gone awry.

It's now set in Melbourne, where Aussie drug-dealing crime boss Duncan (Gary Sweet) is about to fatally discover that his brutal, yet true-hearted, henchman Macbeth (Sam Worthington) is switching his loyalties to more selfish aims.

Spurred on by pronouncements from a trio of nymphet soothsayers traipsing through a graveyard, and later on by his calculating spouse (Victoria Hill), Macbeth decides that he wants to be the head hoodlum of Down Under, and he'll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Wright's early film about Australian neo-Nazis, the critically acclaimed Romper Stomper, know that this helmer can generate rather violent fare. Accordingly, this production gives The Sopranos a run for its money when it comes to blood-laden butchery. Not once but twice does this Macbeth saunter about splattered with hemoglobin from head to foot, looking very Carrie-like, post-bucket spilling.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg of savagery here. There's also a shockingly prolonged garroting of Lady Macduff (Kat Stewart). Seeing her own tot of a son blown away is apparently not enough. She has to struggle in vain against the wire depleting her of life while her killer experiences an orgasmic ecstasy. Of course, you might consider this just a quiet moment between the rather effective machine-gun shootouts, wine cellar barrages, bedroom gougings, kneecap blastings, and barroom fusillades. Between bullets, thankfully there is an abundance of nudity leading at times to copulation, other times just to a shower. This is rather enjoyable because the cast was hired not solely for its ability to convincingly deliver Shakespearean lines. Extremely pleasant looks were a second factor. (Take the mesmerizing Rel Hunt, a Brad-Pitt look-alike, in the role of Angus.)

This combination of talent and Guess-ad libidinousness especially pays off when Macbeth has a foursome with the witches, and when he touches his wife's bare bosom every time the Bard of Avon utilizes the word "breast" in a monologue. At times, this literalness almost leads to a feeling of kitsch, and indeed a few critics at the screening I attended were guffawing now and then.

Adele Flere's masterful art direction, David McKay's award-worthy production design, Jane Johnston's exquisite costume design, and Will Gibson's startling cinematography, which is a kaleidoscope of black and deep red hues, combine for a stylized look that, though one of immense artistry, at times seems to be in bloody battle with the drama. Note, for example, how a fruit bowl steals the show in one dinner scene. And near the finale, instead of being consumed with Macbeth's oncoming demise, you're wondering whether the cast's jackets can be purchased at a local Leather Warehouse.

Attire aside, especially noteworthy is John Clifford White's score that truly deserves Oscar consideration. His crescendos are definitely a must to download.

As for Mr. Wright's direction, it should be observed that he's said, "Macbeth was a dream project for me, and I intended it to unfold as a kind of dream, an escape from the naturalism of most Australian films, a removal of the audience's attention from grunge or suburbia."

So how can one criticize a dream? With a few reservations, this take on the oft-performed tragedy boasts a first-rate cast, a bit of wit, and a vision that, while not for purists, is never tedious.

Best of all, this Macbeth clearly illustrates that:

"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport."

What could be more timely?