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Hold, enough of mob Macbeths

July 27, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" receives a contemporary-dress adaptation from Australia that streamlines the stage play, primarily by shearing it of the subtlety of themes and characterization and reducing it to a series of bloody plot points. Director Geoffrey Wright ("Romper Stomper") and his co-screenwriter, Victoria Hill (who also stars as Lady Macbeth), set the gothic drama in the darkly chic world of a Melbourne gangster and his minions, but much gets lost in the translation.

Previously committed to film by the likes of Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski, this is also not the first time that "Macbeth" has been reset in a criminal underworld. The 1955 noir, "Joe Macbeth"; 1991's "Men of Respect" with John Turturro; and a 2003 Bollywood version, "Maqbool," all precede this account.

Here, Macbeth, played by up-and-comer Sam Worthington, dresses and struts like a petulant rock star. Egged on by hallucinatory visions and a grieving wife, the ambitious sideman knocks off his boss, Duncan (Gary Sweet), and then proceeds to whack anyone who might stand in his way.

All of the actors seem to have been directed to glower their way through scenes, but Worthington in particular is saddled with an overabundance of close-ups in which he squints ominously into the distance, projecting what exactly? Bad things are about to happen? Ambition run amok leads to self-destruction? His vision isn't what it once was?

Wright infuses so much doom and gloom into each scene, things begin to get very campy. When Macbeth encounters the three teenage witches who prophecy his rise to power on the floor of the Cawdor club, it might as well be a fantasy sequence from the TV series "Charmed."

The film has the over-stylized sheen of a car commercial peopled by actors decked out like brooding fashion models. High school students renting the DVD to avoid reading the play would be well advised to omit any descriptions of automotive splendor from their reports. It would be a dead giveaway.

The violence is amped by the presence of automatic weapons and gyrating camerawork, but it all feels very familiar. Although there is some wit apparent here -- Birnam Wood taking the form of a timber truck, for example -- the film is strictly straight-to-video action movie stuff, albeit with dialogue in iambic pentameter.

"Macbeth." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. At the Landmark, 10850 W. Pico Blvd. (at Westwood Boulevard), West L.A. (310) 281-8233.

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