Movie reviews: Macbeth, The Walk, The Intern, By Our Selves
By Our Selves (3*, No Cert, IFI, 83mins)
Paul Whitington reviews this week's other big releases: Macbeth, The Walk, The Intern, and By Our Selves
To justify adapting a Shakespeare play for film you have to have a purpose, a point of view, otherwise it's just cultural wallpaper, heritage drama. To get it right, you also have to have chutzpah: Orson Welles regularly took a blue pen to the Swan of Avon's immortal lines, and in Macbeth (5*, 15A, 113mins), Australian film-maker Justin Kurzel adopts a similarly daredevil approach, losing sections of the text and setting his tale in a dark and blood-soaked landscape. Using lowering skies and brooding camera angles, he has re-imagined Macbeth as a horror film, a bold ploy that makes perfect sense.
Michael Fassbender, crop-haired and wild-eyed, is Macbeth, the fearsome warrior who becomes King Duncan's favourite after defeating an invading army. Macbeth gets promoted, but that's not enough for his insanely ambitious wife (Marion Cotillard), who urges him to use his sword to skewer everything that stands between him and the Scottish crown.
A fine supporting cast includes Jack Reynor, Sean Harris and Paddy Considine, but Fassbender and Cotillard boss this film from start to finish. Fassbender is all rage and fury, a man of action driven mad by guilt, and Cotillard oozes emotional power and bitterness. Her 'come thick night' speech is the best thing in the film.
Some of you may recall Man on Wire, James Marsh's outstanding 2008 documentary that celebrated the exploits of French funambulist (God I love that word) Philippe Petit, who in 1974 walked a tightrope between the towers of the World Trade Center. Robert Zemeckis's film The Walk (4*, PG, 123mins) dramatises that stunt, and starts off pretty shakily.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, sporting an infuriating beam and Clouseau-ish accent, is Petit, who stands atop the Statue of Liberty and introduces his own story with circus-tent flourishes. We see him as a child learning to juggle and master a unicycle before being taught the fine art of tightrope-walking by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, in a wonderful, nuanced turn). Petit stages a daring walk between the towers of Notre Dame before setting his sights on a taller structure.
This early part of The Walk is flaky, though once you accept that Gordon-Levitt is going for a heightened, theatrical presentation, his performance starts to make sense. But when the action moves to New York, Zemeckis's film takes flight and turns into something special. The scenes where Petit takes to the wire are so splendidly rendered that they had me cowering in my seat. It's brilliantly done, not to be missed.
Infinitely more miss-able is The Intern (2*, 12A, 121mins), Nancy Meyers' soft and fuzzy comedy starring Robert De Niro as a retired widower who re-enters the workforce. When Ben Whittaker answers an ad seeking senior interns at an internet clothing retailer, he enters the orbit of Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), the company's brilliant, driven founder. She thinks the senior intern programme is ridiculous, but over time Ben becomes her indispensable factotum, a kind of corporate Jeeves who hovers patiently in the background poised to sort out her various crises.
It's a silly film, despite decent performances from De Niro and Hathaway, and seems to judge poor Jules for being too driven and insufficiently domestic.
And finally to By Our Selves (3*, No Cert, IFI, 83mins), Andrew Kotting's interesting but maddeningly pretentious film based on the life of John Clare, a 19th-century English nature poet embodied here by Toby Jones. In 1841, Clare escaped from a mental asylum in Epping Forest and spent four days walking 80 miles to his native Northamptonshire.
In Kotting's film Jones re-enacts the walk through the despoiled modern English countryside, an interesting concept that sadly is constantly interrupted by asides from Kotting himself and blathery interviews with Alan Moore.
Sicario (Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro); Suffragette (Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter); Red Army (Slava Fetizov, Vladislav Tretiak); Tana Bana (Pat Murphy).