Movie reviews: Macbeth, The Martian, The Intern

Justin Kurzel’s version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (15A) opens with an extraordinarily vivid battle scene, as loyal Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) goes to war on behalf of King Duncan (David Thewlis).

The tone is set from the off: a brutally grim 11th century reality set against a quasi-mythical backdrop of a wild, mist-shrouded landscape, the setting mirroring the untameable ambition that lurks in Macbeth’s breast. 

When the witches prophecy that Macbeth will one day be king, and Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) drips her seductively flattering poison into his ear, the taboo subject of regicide is broached. 

This is Shakespeare in the raw, a stripped-down production that eschews the stereotypes of Scottish nationalism — there’s nary a square of tartan to be glimpsed — to focus on the psychology behind the lust for power. 

It’s a masterpiece of Machiavellian scheming, gory murders and guilt-ridden madness, and even if the Bard’s language is, as always, the real star, Michael Fassbender is superb in the lead role, a complex blend of fidelity, treason, crippling self-awareness and sociopathic instincts.

His towering performance is matched by Marion Cotillard’s subtly self-effacing turn as Lady Macbeth as the corrupting enchantress who finds in her husband an all too willing puppet for her diabolical plot, while Paddy Considine shines in the tragic role of Banquo. 

The Scottish accents are thick as porridge, which means there are times when it’s difficult to decipher the nuances, but otherwise this Macbeth — with Jed Kurzel’s haunting score contributing handsomely — is a triumph.

The Martian (12A) opens with a violent storm on the surface of Mars that forces a team of astronauts, led by Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), to abandon their mission and return to Earth, believing that their colleague Mark Watney (Matt Damon) has been killed by flying debris.

When Watney awakes the following day, wounded, alone and 50m miles from home, he has two choices: give up and die, or try to survive until NASA discovers he’s still alive. 

Ridley Scott’s blockbuster isn’t quite a one-man show — the story is divided between Watney on Mars, the increasingly frantic NASA efforts to get him home, and Watney’s former colleagues on their long journey home — but Matt Damon gets the lion’s share of the story’s entertaining moments as Watney, a botanist by trade, sets about cultivating a tiny patch of the Red Planet.

Oddly, and despite the movie’s epic scale, there is very little by way of narrative tension. 

Most people would crumble very quickly under the existential pressure of surviving alone on a dead planet — this is Robinson Crusoe to the nth degree — but the irrepressibly gung-ho Watney capers around like the proverbial sand-boy, hoeing his potato patch, doing impressions of the Fonz and jerry-rigging various vehicles as he plans ever more audacious attempts to escape from Mars.

Watney is arguably the most compelling botanist ever to light up the silver screen, but while the movie is always enjoyable, it doesn’t really deliver the human drama the fabulously bleak setting deserves until its entirely implausible climax.

If you prefer your cinema a little more genteel than gory Shakespearean tragedies and epic Mars rescue missions, The Intern (12A) might fit the bill. 

Retired widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is struggling to find a purpose in life when he spots an advertisement for ‘senior interns’ at a Brooklyn-based on-line fashion site run by dynamic entrepreneur Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway).

Assigned as Jules’ personal helper, Ben finds it difficult to help, because Jules insists on multi-tasking every single issue that crops up, giving herself a punishing schedule that impacts on the potential success of her business and also her home life, where husband Matt (Anders Holm) and daughter Paige (JoJo Kushner) are beginning to feel neglected. Can Ben persuade Jules to accept the wisdom of his 40 years in business?

There’s a little bit more to writer-director Nancy Meyers’ plot than that, but not an awful lot more. Ben Whittaker is one of life’s nice guys, an old-fashioned gentleman who is adopted as a father figure by a younger generation of hipsters.

When he tries to help Jules lighten her workload, she resists for a bit; he tries a little harder, and she accepts his help.

 That makes it all sound rather bland and wishy-washy, but in fact it’s all rather lovely, perhaps because such universal niceness seems rather improbable in the cut-throat world of New York business – and two charming performances from De Niro and Hathaway do the story no harm at all.


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