“Out, Damned Spot!”: ‘Men of Respect’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - July 15, 2016

Before I dive into this week’s review, I want to take a brief moment to apologize for my absence from Kulture Shocked last week. As much as it pains me to stall out on my regular readers, especially in a theme month I so enjoy, I regrettably hat to spend some time dealing with personal matters. But all that is behind us now, and you should expect no further delays in my reviews! 

I don’t believe it’s much of a stretch to say that Macbeth is one of my favorite Shakespearian tragedies to see performed. It’s just such an elegantly designed work, riding the line between simplicity and intrigue almost flawlessly. The plots and motives of each character are deep, yet characteristic enough to be quickly readable by any audience. It’s the kind of story where you can predict the outcomes right away, but still, find joy in just seeing them play out. Macbeth (or “The Scottish Play”, as those of us on the more superstitious side of the theater world, know it) is an excellent introductory game for anyone timid to jump full-force into the works of the Bard, so much so that it has seen countless superb adaptations to the screen – some of my favorites of which will be covered by my colleagues here in the coming weeks! But not every performance is created equal. Oh no, my friends: for every Throne of Blood, there must be one which falls short. Thus enters this week’s offering, 1990’s Men of Respect, stage left. 

Set in the sleazy underbelly of organized crime, this version of the Scottish drama follows Mike Battaglia (John Turturro) as he rises through the ranks of mobsters to become the reigning don. At first, his intentions are mostly clean and his ambitions small, but he finds himself riled to greater levels of aggression and cruelty by the ramblings of a local medium and his domineering wife, Ruthie (Katherine Borowitz). But with great power comes great paranoia, as Battaglia’s egomaniacal desire for power drives him further into ruthless madness. 

If this sounds all-too familiar to you, it’s because it is – Men of Respect is a point-for-point retelling of Macbeth with no creativity whatsoever. Oh, you changed it to a mobster story? Kudos – you took the easiest route, and didn’t even make the story leaps required for other Shakespeare-meets-Mafia adaptations like the Ian McKellen-lead Richard III, or Kurosawa’s oddball Hamlet, The Bad Sleep Well. They take the time to change names and dialogue, but it all comes off like the director just took the Cliff Notes on whatever scene he was shooting and tweaked a word here or there. The original text works because the high-English gives us a sense of stature and an air of the magical and mysterious, but here it sounds like our Lady Macbeth is just aimlessly spouting exposition and canned dialogue. Things happen because they must, not because they make any bloody sense in the proceedings. Take the soothsayer as mentioned above, Lucia (Lilia Skala): why do we suddenly have a fortune teller and her two random tags along in this otherwise grounded story? Because there are witches in Macbeth, duh! But the internal consistency of the film, itself, is complete nonsense.  

Top all of this off with shoddy acting, completely blasé staging, and the altogether terrible dialogue, and there’s not much to get, here. Not one player or moment comes off as charming or witty – anyone with even a passing knowledge of Macbeth and The Godfather could write this in a night – and I assume that’s what happened. The sugar-coating on all of this is the way in which the film strikes a cardinal sin: using the title in character dialogue. I counted no fewer than four instances of “… for we are Men of Respect” in the less-than-two-hours this hum-drum murder story decides it’s worth forcing on us. Everyone got an “Eyyyyy!” out of me, but that may have more to do with the baked-in Family Guy reaction and the beer I was downing at the point of viewing. 

Macbeth is truly one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies – perhaps not the deepest or most engrossing, but one of his most inviting and enjoyable, even to a casual crowd. Too bad the largest tragedy of this adaptation is that it exists at all. 

Final Say: Skip It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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