There's nothing so difficult or novel about restaging Shakespeare in modern dress—just add cell phones and iPods, button-snap cowboy shirts, Prada suits, and machine guns. The trick is to match the play with the period and setting, to mutually illuminate the Elizabethan and the modern. Films like Hamlet Goes Business, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Romeo + Juliet pulled it off; this Melbourne mobster adaptation of the Scottish play—not so much. Director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) and co-writer Victoria Hill, who also plays Lady M, greatly abridge the text, stick to the original pentameter, turn soliloquy into voice-over, and rearrange a few key speeches. None of which is a sin: Macbeth should remain a living, breathing document. But the early, hasty immersion into gunfights and car chases pushes the text in all the wrong ways. As written, the 400-year-old words are still fresher than tropes from Miami Vice, Scarface, and The Sopranos. And what, really, don't we already know about honor among thieves? Only in the movie's later going, as the usurper (Sam Worthington) begins to bog down in blood, do he and the rest stop rushing their lines; only then does the film seem timely and topical. The grim cycle of retribution, the vengeful orphan sons of Duncan and Banquo, the wailing widows—what could be more timely than Macbeth in Mosul?
Conspirators Sam Worthington and Victoria Hill.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., June 15. Not rated. 109 minutes.