Shakespeare adaptations are one of the most common film/stage adaptations this side of Tennessee Williams. They're often filmed in a very straight forward/theater like way, which makes most new adaptations boring or uninspired.
Justin Kurzel, however, takes the play and interprets it into a hauntingly beautiful spectacle I have never seen from any Shakespearian adaptation. Characters are seen often wandering and/or pontificating amongst these stark beautiful landscapes. The art and set design put a unique spin on the usual medieval fare that comes with a story like "Macbeth."
Usually skipped over, battle sequences from story subtext are shown here in brutal slow motion glory. Macbeth and his troops often brandished with three oil-like streaks going down their entire face.
It might be a bit trying for general audiences, but it's always refreshing to see a director be bold enough to leave the Shakespearian dialogue as is. Some interesting additions are made such as giving Macbeth and Lady Macbeth a dead son to grieve over in the film's opening. An interesting notion that added much depth to the character.
There's also a couple sex sequences between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth which worked both in the context of the story as well as the chemistry between Mario Cotillard and Michael Fassbender. While we're on the subject, their performances were truly something to behold. Fassbender played both the heroic and unhinged mad king with such seamless transaction.
The usually calm and sweet Cotillard also showed off some range going from insistent and controlling to going mad herself. Overall the entire cast was truly something to behold. Especially Paddy Considine as the seemingly innocent Banquo, and the increasingly great Sean Harris as Macbeth's main "antagonist" Macduff. And nothing beat the three/four witches. Typically the witches are hamming it up in these big spectacles (looking at you Polanski) but here Kurzel chooses the witches to be more quiet and subdued, making them all the creepier.
The little complaints I have are a bit contradictory to what I like about the film. As much as I love the Shakespearian dialogue it does become a bit hard to follow, especially if you didn't take AP English, thus distracting you from the beautiful visuals on the screen. But, to most of the hardcore Macbeth fans (is that a thing?) it is important to leave that there.
Another small nit pick is just the believability of these stories. Audience perception has changed over a few hundred years, so it makes some character motivation come into question, but it is all for the sake of the story.
Kurzel seems to be aimed dead on for making "Assassin's Creed" the best video game adaptation of all time, reuniting with his two lead actors Fassbender & Cotillard.
Overall, Macbeth is art house at its absolute finest. The visuals are breathtaking, amongst the best I've seen this year, and the performances are easily some of the best of the most of these actors' careers. Seek it out now, in limited release.