December 25th, 2021
MOVIE: THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
STARRING: DENZEL WASHINGTON, FRANCES MCDORMAND, BRENDAN GLEESON, COREY HAWKINS
DIRECTED BY: JOEL COEN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Will there be a time when the work of William Shakespeare becomes obsolete? Or a time where it can’t be interpreted differently? I don’t think so and if Joel Coen’s version of The Tragedy of Macbeth proves anything, it’s that it still has a powerful impact to be made, from an cinematic, and artistic standpoint. It’s tough to say if this version of Macbeth is the best, there have been so many- most recently Justin Kurzel’s 2015 version with Michael Fassbender- but it is safe to say that having Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles is a recipe for excellence. What is served is a full meal, delicious from the first frame to last, with a helpful side of thespian performances. The Tragedy of Macbeth is once again a tale of men struggling for power, the vengeful women behind the ambitious man, and how paranoia can send anyone into the depths of madness. It’s pure Shakespeare at the highest level.
The opening shot- in a monochrome black & white from the impeccable cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel- is a vision of the three witches, only it’s not three people, it’s just Kathryn Hunter playing all three- reflected in a pool of water, and standing in the fog. Approaching is a man back from war- Lord Macbeth (Washington) with his trusted squire Banquo (Bertie Carvel) standing by. The prophecy is told to Macbeth, an opportunity on the horizon for him, a change in power over king Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), Lady Macbeth (McDormand) will hide in the shadows, but beware the places that guilt can take you. If one has seen an iteration of The Tragedy of Macbeth will know the plot beats, but with Coen behind the camera, and guiding it with such illustrious fare, it’s a reminder that each iteration offers something new.
It’s a fascinating production from top to bottom. The direction and writing is by Coen, who is working without his brother for the first time, a point that seems both purposeful in his selection of an unoriginal work, and purposeful in telling a story of power struggle. The cavalcade of actors is only the best, with Washington leading the way with his robust power, a voice that grips the audience, and his pepper gray beard giving him the prestigious look of our modern day Laurence Olivier. Behind him is the puppet master role of Lady Macbeth, played precisely by McDormand, not portraying the role as manically, but more straight forward. She’s a woman possessed and seeing herself as the rightful guide to her husband’s success. The supporting players of Corey Hawkins as the vengeful Macduff, Harry Melling as the timid heir to the throne, and the returning Kathryn Hunter- who delivers the films most memorable performance- all round out a collective group that turns in top-notch theater.
The major focus, what could almost be considered distracting- is on how miraculously looking The Tragedy of Macbeth is. I would compare it visually to the architecture of a cathedral or church, where the black & white creates similar themes of what Ingmar Bergman did with The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, and Winter Light. It’s a biblical experience, a holy anointing of cinema. Everything on the screen is in a minimal capacity. The set designs consist of one chair, a row of trees, or a lone house in the distance. The costumes are all made of the same materials, all in shades of gray or white, which not only heighten the cinematography, it is a conscious choice by Coen to have the audience dive into the purpose of it all. If the dynamics of the drama is not working for you, everything else most certainly will.
It should come as no surprise that this version of The Tragedy of Macbeth is a stellar production. Although my rating is not 4-stars, that’s more of a me thing than the movie, where on my first viewing I was a bit tired, and I thought the material dragged a bit in the middle. Similar to The Power of the Dog, I will certainly be taking the time to watch The Tragedy of Macbeth again. It’s all just a winning combo. The prestigious acting of Washington and McDormand, guided by the uncompromised direction of Joel Coen, with some of the greatest cinematography you will ever see. It makes you forget the story was written by some guy named Shakespeare. That might be why his stuff is always great, each new presentation is another moment to be reminded of that greatness. His work is a spot in the history of theater and literature that can never be rubbed out.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH ARRIVES IN SELECT THEATERS CHRISTMAS DAY DECEMBER 25TH, 2021 AND WIDE RELEASE JANUARY 1ST, 2022.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady