A version of "Macbeth" starring a "dream team" of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard closed the Cannes Film Festival's competition on Saturday, with many critics swooning for the visceral blood-and-betrayal movie.
Directed by an Australian, Justin Kurzel, and shot on location mostly in Scotland where the Bard's tragedy is set, the picture plunges the viewer into a naturalistic, brutal world that informs Macbeth's creeping madness as he murders his way to power.
A press screening early Saturday was met with strong applause, even if some in the audience thought the Shakespearean English hard to follow sometimes, especially under a thundering music score.
The Guardian newspaper said Fassbender and Cotillard are a "dream-team pairing, actors who radiate charisma, perhaps more charisma than can be entirely absorbed into the fabric of the film".
The pared-down dialogue and cinema's ability to show battles traditionally set off-stage prompted the industry magazine Variety to call it "a Shakespeare pic for the ages — albeit one surely too savage for the classroom".
Macbeth unbalanced by battle
Some, though, felt less invested in the Macbeths' relationship. The Indiewire website said that for all the modernizing and stylistic touches, a lack of engagement led this "compelling adaptation to fall on its sword".
Despite being French, Cotillard was seen to hit the mark both performance- and accent-wise as the ambitious, scheming Lady Macbeth.
She admitted in a Cannes news conference that "the text was difficult for me" and intimidated her at the start.
She also found it tough to slip into the skin of Lady Macbeth because "all is gloom", but she added she saw the character as motivated by love for her husband as much as by ambition. "It's just they're too damaged to turn towards something luminous."
Fassbender said Kurzel's decision to have his Macbeth's madness explained in part by battlefield post-traumatic stress disorder made his approach to the character click.
"That made so much sense from the beginning for the character" and explained his "unhinged behavior," he said.
"People always talk about this being a story about ambition… but I think it's a story about loss," particularly the Macbeths' loss of a child — hinted at in the play but made explicit in the movie's first scene.
Kurzel, who's previous feature was "Snowtown" a tough Australian movie about a pair of real-life serial killers, will be bringing his two stars back together again for a just as violent, but very different film.
The trio are about to start work on "Assassin's Creed", a big-screen adaptation of a computer game set in a swashbuckling era in which Fassbender is believed to again play the lead role.