Review by Jane Freebury

The stories behind the infamous gangland murders in Melbourne are worth a movie or two in their own right and hardly need the overlay of Shakespearean tragedy to conjure up a welter of blood and guilty anguish. There’s been plenty of theatre in those media images of dark-suited men in their wrap-around sunglasses bearing the coffin of the latest gang-war victims to the grave.

If setting this new Macbeth in the urban underworld was a good idea, it isn’t a new one. Over the years others have pitched Shakespeare’s play, 400 years old this year, into the murky realm of crime bosses and their henchmen. There’s even a Hindi version, Maqbool, set among the Mumbai mafia.

But there really are exciting new ideas here and Geoffrey Wright, best known for Romper Stomper, the film which cast Russell Crowe as a skinhead, lets rip, pitching the action into a world of brooding darkness that even the odd shot in daylight can’t lift. This time Sam Worthington is at the film’s violent centre.

Not a word is spoken during the opening scenes, as we get used to the look and feel of the modern milieu and trappings first – sleek black cars, guns and drugs. And it isn’t until after Lady Macbeth (Victoria Hill) is seen weeping at the grave of her only child, and a bloody shoot out in a car park, that the talk begins. The witches, ready to ensnare him with their riddles of deceit, are nymphettes in school uniform. A much more plausible metaphor for temptation than hags on a wintry heath.

If the words for which the play is famous get lost in the action – just as they got lost in the spectacle of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet – the demographic this movie is aimed at probably won’t miss them all that much. Neither what has been left out, nor the delicious contradictions in the language that remains, in all the bloody violence.

Wright could never be accused of restraint, full-tilt is more like it, but he could have exercised it in the scenes where Duncan is murdered, and when Macduff’s wife and young son are dispatched.

And he should have got better performances from his actors who are not entirely comfortable with their lines. John Bell could have helped out with that.

3.5 stars