Something indeed wicked this way comes in a mangled "Macbeth" set in contempo gangland Melbourne. Aussie helmer Geoffrey Wright's first local outing since "Metal Skin" (1994) is oversupplied with particularly nasty bloodletting and underdone as an involving portrait of one of the Bard's mightiest and most psychologically intriguing tragic figures.

Something indeed wicked this way comes in a mangled “Macbeth” set in contempo gangland Melbourne. Aussie helmer Geoffrey Wright’s first local outing since “Metal Skin” (1994) is oversupplied with particularly nasty bloodletting and underdone as an involving portrait of one of the Bard’s mightiest and most psychologically intriguing tragic figures. Further plagued by thesps struggling with Shakespearian dialogue, the pic’s export prospects beyond ancillary appear bleak following its Toronto world preem. Considerable media hoopla and industry anticipation Down Under should at least ensure beefy opening biz for the high-shock-value film on its Sept. 21 release.

On the generally accepted 400th anni of the play’s writing — and 51 years since “Joe Macbeth” took the story to the American criminal underworld — this hotted-up “Macbeth” launches with three sexy schoolgirl witches desecrating statues in a graveyard. Their soft-focus forebodings hissed out in the manner of Hammer horror vampires, pic then switches to the Melbourne docklands where gang boss Duncan (Gary Sweet) and crew eliminate a rival Asian gang. Well-choreographed set-piece generates heat that quickly cools once the business of character and plot are at hand.

Although Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy is trimmed by only half an hour, the screenplay fails to ascribe to Macbeth the initial heroism critical to making grand tragedy of his road to ruin. Uncomfortably played by Sam Worthington, the character is rendered as a hazy figure whose choices have less to do with his own ambition and susceptibility to prophecy than a willingness to simply go along with Lady Macbeth’s (Victoria Hill) naked skullduggery. In the critical role, legit actress Hill gives a just-tolerable performance marked by bouts of shrill overplaying.

Problematic, too, is the establishment of key secondary characters Banquo, Macduff and Malcolm. Following the excessively bloody murder of Duncan, auds unfamiliar with the text may find it difficult to figure out just who’s who in the Macbeth scheme of things. Following the title character’s four-in-a-bed romp with the witches and the extremely unpleasant killing of Lady Macduff and her son, viewers may care little by the time Macbeth dons a leather kilt and dances a painfully awkward jig before facing the music. At this point, events at Macbeth’s semi-rural Dunsinane mansion seem more like the squabbles of inane dunces.

Costumed and art-directed to the max, the production looks good, with nightclub and strip-joint hangouts dripping in portentous crimson colorings and deep-black recesses. Befitting the underworld milieu, male dress code is that of rock star royalty with bling to spare. Pic is also well served by lenser Will Gibson’s arresting and creative compositions and the unsettling score by longtime Wright collaborator John Clifford White.

Macbeth

Australia

Production

A Palace Films release (in Australia) of a Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation, in association with Film Victoria, Arclight Films and Paradigm Hyde Films, of a Mushroom Pictures production. (International sales: Arclight Films Intl., Los Angeles). Produced by Marin Fabinyi. Executive producers, Michael Gudinski, Gary Hamilton, Greg Sitch, Antonio Zeccola. Co-executive producers, Michael Whyke, Terrence Yason, Peter Phelan. Co-producers, Geoffrey Wright, Victoria Hill, Jenni Tosi. Directed by Geoffrey Wright. Screenplay, Wright, Victoria Hill, adapted from the play by William Shakespeare.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Will Gibson; editor, Jane Usher; music, John Clifford White; production designer, David McKay; art director, Adele Flere; costume designer, Jane Johnston; sound (Dolby digital), John Wilkinson; assistant director, Paul Walton; casting, Marianne Jade, Louise Mitchell. Reviewed at Verona Cinema, Sydney, July 7, 2006. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Vanguard.) Running time: 109 MIN.

With

Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Lachy Hulme, Gary Sweet, Steve Bastoni, Mick Molloy, Kat Stewart.

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