3.5 stars

The latest big screen adaptation of the tragedy probably written by Shakespeare is shot mostly in Scotland, which means there's a lot of beautiful, foggy scenery that aches melancholic. The majestic gloom is enhanced by a score that blends industrial sounds with low, mournful strings. You can sense right away that this is going to be the best bummer ever!

Macbeth is the second feature film by Australian director Justin Kurzel. His first movie was The Snowtown Murders, which dealt with an Aussie serial killer. His next film will be the video game-based Assassin's Creed. Looks like Justin likes it rough. Then again, I should have noted that when he opted to add a grisly scene depicting a battle only referred to in the play.

There's a lot of killing going on in Macbeth's neck of the woods, and we get close-ups galore of flying hunks of flesh and drizzling blood, shot with blue filters, then gold, then blue ... how horrific and trippy! Later, the red filters appear, a sure sign that things are getting even grimmer.

Macbeth is played by Michael Fassbender, the reigning Magneto in the X-Men franchise. He's very good, as always – seething and shouting and regretting. He regrets a lot. I know it doesn't make any sense, but during one highly dramatic moment in Macbeth I caught myself thinking of Fassbender's celebrated full-frontal nude scene in Shame and saying to myself, "You'd think a guy as well-hung as he is wouldn't be so mopey."

Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) plays Lady Macbeth, who takes a surprisingly short time to go from from ambitious spouse to OCD hand-washer. Her performance is out, damned spot on, and her French accent underscores her character's status as outsider.

We've reached the point where I usually offer a plot description, but I'm pretty sure that if you aren't already familiar with Macbeth, you've probably stopped reading this and moved on to the Food section. Speaking of which, have you eaten at Nick's Chili on Lafayette Road? Best chili in town – as good as my Mom's.

But I digress.

I should tell you that the film's three screenwriters – Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso – are not content merely to trim down the text to fit in 153 minutes. They also tweak the story, because hey, it's only SHAKESPEARE. They spend a lot of time outdoors, too. It takes 49 minutes before we reach our first castle. With so much fighting and bleeding and emoting in the misty countryside, it was hard not to think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I understand that the filmmaker was going for a bare bones feel, though, and acknowledge he more or less got it, even if the warriors had to hack through muscles and skin to get there.

I'm not even sure what the end of that last sentence meant, but hey, fair is foul, and foul is fair. Or something like that. Bottom line: This Macbeth is a solid enough version, intense and violent, and well-acted by a strong cast, including Fassbender and Cotillard, who will also star in James Kurzel's video-game-to-cineplex adaptation of Assassin's Creed.

Video game. Shakespeare. Could it be that the difference doth not matter? I've heard that "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour on the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

But I disagree. As opposed to Macbeth, I've always considered myself a glass half full kind of guy.


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.