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Billy Morrissette
James LeGros, Maura Tierney, Christopher Walken, Kevin Corrigan, James Rebhorn, Thomas Guiry, Andy Dick, Amy Smart, Speed Levitch
Writing Credits:
Billy Morrissette, based on a story by William Shakespeare

What if the McBeths were alive in '75?
Rated R for language, some nudity, drug content and brief violence.

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Digital Stereo

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 11/26/2002

• Director Interview and Commentary
• Insider's Guide to Scotland, Pa.
• Bonus Tracks with Snapshots from Sundance Film Festival


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Scotland, PA (2001)

Reviewed by David Williams (December 31, 2002)

It’s been rather popular of late to add an updated twist to a classic Shakespearean work. Let’s name just a very small sampling of the more recent – and more popular - adaptations. We’ve had Othello as a high school basketball player in O; a high school “Taming of the Shrew” in 10 Things I Hate About You; “Love’s Labor’s Lost” was given a 1930’s musical twist by Kenneth Branagh; and who can forget Baz Luhrmann’s ostentatious remake of Romeo + Juliet? IMDB gives the Bard almost 500 screenwriting credits in its database at last check. It seems that William Shakespeare is much like TuPac Shakur and Elvis Presley – his estate makes more money after he’s dead than when he was alive.

The latest entry in attempting to update the Bard – and proving that it can be done successfully – is Scotland, PA, a white trash retelling of the classic tale that takes place at a burger joint in the 1970’s. Written and directed by former actor Billy Morrissette, this film is his first project behind the camera and he has produced a very bold and clever tale that puts an intelligent spin on an old story. According to one of the DVD extras, Morissette has had the idea for the film running around in his head for years - dating back to the time when he worked at a fast food restaurant and despised his boss. It just so happens that he was also reading “Macbeth” for the first time as well and the early formation of ideas for Scotland, PA were born. It’s Macbeth meets McDonald’s and instead of being set in grand Scottish castles, the story takes place in Scotland, Pennsylvania in a fast food establishment. The underlying themes of ambition, betrayal, murder, and a slow descent into madness are all still here; only the time, the place, and the kingdom have been changed.

The King of Scotland, Duncan, has been juxtaposed with the “king of burgers”, Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn), and his heirs to his fast food fortune, Donald (Geoff Dunsworth playing an updated Donalbain) and Malcolm (Tom Guiry). You see, Norm is the owner of “Duncan’s”, a local burger joint in Scotland that has served he and his family well for years and he can think of nothing more glorious for his “kingdom” than coming up with new ways to make the business more profitable. Thankfully, Mr. Duncan has a visionary working for him, Joe “Mac” McBeth (James LeGros), a fry cook who has revelations of drive-up windows where people can order via intercoms from their cars and try out new items like deep-fried chicken nuggets. Joe’s wife Pat (Maura Tierney) works at the restaurant as well and constantly reminds Joe of his greater ambitions in life. She continually goads him in to taking chances so that he can move up the corporate ladder at “Duncan’s” as quickly as possible. Much like the play, our Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to take his fate into his own hands and make himself “king” – anyone in his way be damned.

Duncan enjoys and appreciates Joe and his fervor for the business, but passes him over for a long deserved managerial promotion. It seems that Duncan has pretty much decided that the keys to the kingdom need to stay in the family and he is determined that his son, Malcolm, will take over the business one day. Forget the fact that Malcolm hates the work, hates his father, and doesn’t want to do anything other than play rock-n-roll in his less than successful cover band. While Joe is definitely disappointed in the snubbing, the dastardly deed flies all over Pat and she is determined to do something about it.

Using her Machiavellian charms, Pat coaxes her husband into murdering Duncan and an evil plan is set in motion. The couple sneaks up on Norm one night after hours and after whacking him upside the head with a frying pan a few times and getting the combination to the store’s safe, Joe accidentally trips Norm and sends him head first in to the deep fryer, killing him almost instantly. After the funeral, the “heirs to the Duncan throne”, Malcolm and Donald, decide to simply take their dad’s inheritance money and sell “Duncan’s” to Joe and Pat. The couple immediately implement all of their big time plans for the place and “Duncan’s” quickly becomes “McBeth’s” – complete with a drive-up window and everything. The establishment becomes a popular one in Scotland and the McBeth’s soon find themselves living out their middle-class dreams.

However, the McBeth’s soon find their lifestyle threatened by Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken in a prime role), a local investigator (and vegetarian) assigned to the murder case. He’s not the brightest guy to ever wear a badge and initially blames the dubious deed on Malcolm, but he’s persistent enough to hang around to see the respective psychoses that the McBeth’s eventually slip in to. The husband and wife start to crack and while McDuff isn’t the principal ruination of the couple, he’s around when it all hits the fan and the couple meets their vexing end.

The film updates other elements in the story that weren’t explicitly covered earlier and in Scotland, PA, the three witches that foretell Macbeth’s plight are replaced by three drugged-out hippies with a Magic 8-Ball played by Andy Dick, Speed Levitch, and Amy Smart. Macbeth’s suspicious friend and fellow general, Banquo, has now been modernized to be a fellow short order cook played by Kevin Corrigan.

The film’s script works on so many levels and thankfully, the performances are excellent as well. The parts are well played from top to bottom and really add to the overall enjoyment of the picture. Most notable are LeGros and Tierney and their gradual slip into madness brought on by their overwhelming guilt. They really portray a nice progression into the mouth of madness and we see the dark consequences that fall upon them for their misguided ambition. Writer/Director Billy Morrissette does a marvelous job on his first feature film and seems to have had great fun with the story of “Macbeth”. Here’s hoping we see more from him in the future.

The DVD Grades: Picture C / Audio C+ / Bonus C

Sundance/Showtime have made an error that I thought was all but eradicated from the DVD world – a non-anamorphic transfer! Scotland, PA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in a letterboxed transfer and with the film’s independent origins, there are a few issues here that deserve mention.

The image for Scotland, PA was relatively tight in spots and even when the quality dropped slightly, it was never severe and always maintained a somewhat solid image. The color palette in the film was rather generic and earthy, with the boldest hues displayed at scenes shot at McBeth’s orange/green/yellow burger joint. The hues were quite impudent at times and in spots, it seemed that there was a bit of smearing on the transfer – but not enough to overly concern ourselves with. Black levels were appropriately deep and bold, with a few occasions where they became a bit murky and caused some slight breakup in the image.

There were some other issues with the transfer and they pretty much run the gambit of general transfer anomalies. There were a few scenes in the film that contained a slight amount of grain and it caused the image to go a bit soft on occasion. Edge enhancement showed up in a couple of areas and was easily spotted – nitpicking aside – and shimmer popped up on some of the more highly contrasted backgrounds. As mentioned before, black levels were a bit on the muddy side in a few places and also noted were the occasional flake and fleck on the screen that never appeared for more than the blink of an eye.

The transfer looks decent enough save for the fact that Sundance/Showtime have decided to set the DVD format back a couple of years by offering the film non-anamorphically. While there were a few errors and questionable areas, the transfer wasn’t horrible by any stretch. Even so, any sympathy I had for the film being independent was taken away with the studio’s decision to release Scotland, PA non-anamorphically – therefore the two issues will balance themselves out and we’ll end up with a very underwhelming image.

The audio track for Scotland, PA is as inconspicuous as the video transfer, as Sundance/Showtime present their film in a Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and manages only to get the main points of the film across unassumingly.

The film’s soundstage and dynamics are somewhat limited by the format it was transferred in and while a 5.1 track would have been nice, it’s doubtful that things would have been much better save for the film’s energetic soundtrack of 70’s rock tunes from Bad Company and others. The film was a dialogue-driven affair and there were no problems hearing or comprehending what was being said in the film at any time. There were hardly any effects to speak of other than general crowd noise, passing cars, and things of that sort and I didn’t note any pans or splits – generic or otherwise. The film’s most impressive element, as I mentioned before, was its booming 70’s soundtrack and its catchy score from Anton Sanko. At times however, the music came in a bit too loud and drowned out the dialogue somewhat. However, it never lingered for long and things worked their way back to normal rather quickly.

Sundance/Showtime don’t offer viewers a secondary language track or subtitles and ultimately, Scotland. PA offered up a good, but not great, auditory experience.

Scotland, PA doesn’t get the ‘Special Edition’ treatment from the folks at The Sundance Channel or Showtime, but there are a few items for us to explore nonetheless starting with a Director’s Commentary that features first-timer, Billy Morrissette. Morrissette’s commentary gets off to a slow start, but as it builds steam, becomes much more interesting. Morrissette does a good job of handling the commentary all by himself and covers a wide array of subjects which include shooting on location, the origins for his take on Shakespeare’s classic play, stories from behind the scenes and on the set, budgetary constraints while making the film, how weather affected filming, and so on and so forth. Morrissette is a bit heavy on the praise at times, but being such a low-budget independent project, it’s a bit more understandable and forgivable than what’s heaped on many actors for taking time to star in major motion pictures. Ultimately, the commentary was a diamond in the rough and there was a lot of good information to be gleaned from it. It’s a fun and enjoyable listen that shouldn’t be missed by those who buy/own/rent this DVD.

Under the “Special Features” heading is where we’ll find a featurette that’s often shown on The Sundance Channel, Afterthought (5:13); a reflective interview with the director of the film, Billy Morrissette. He goes in to some detail on how he came up with the idea of having “Macbeth” take place in a fast food joint. He tells us that Fargo was a great influence on how he wanted to make his film and he then goes into some detail on what it was like working with the different actors in the film. Morrissette gives us a very energetic and engaging discussion on Scotland, PA but ultimately, the extra was just a bit too short to be completely involving.

Next up is Festival Snapshot Diaries (1:52) and this is nothing more than a montage of still photos from the Sundance Film Festival. Woo Hoo!

The Insider’s Guide is next and can only be accessed via the DVD-ROM drive on your computer. By doing so, we are allowed to take an interactive tour through Scotland, PA.

Lastly, we are given access to some Credits - DVD credits that is – and if you’re interested, this is where you’d find out who was responsible for making this disc.

In the end, we’re not given a lot to explore outside of the film itself. However, the director’s commentary was quite informative and entertaining and definitely made up for the lack of anything else substantive.

Scotland, PA has a very limited audience and if you’ve made it this far in my review, you may be part of this small collective. It’s a black comedy in every sense of the word and if you enjoy the sensibilities of Shakespeare with a burger and fries, Scotland, PA is just what you’ve been looking for. This was really a great film, but the unfortunate lack of any substantive DVD extras and the asking price might turn a few folks away. Admittedly, the DVD itself isn’t a technical marvel and its only real selling point is that fact that it’s a great film. If you’re a little unsure about cost justifying the purchase or simply aren’t interested in owning the disc, make sure you catch Scotland, PA on Showtime or The Sundance Channel next time it’s on – you won’t be sorry.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1562 Stars Number of Votes: 32
5 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.