New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth Movies and Shakers January 5, 2022

Joel Coen’s reimagining of this classic Shakespeare tragedy is stark compared to past productions and very different from what Coen has directed before with brother Ethan. With Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the leads, it may not be what you expect, but fascinating all the same. 

McDormand is reprises the role she had in an English class when she was just 14 years old and always dreamt about playing again. Now, 50 years later, she’s directed by her husband, Joel Coen. Washington has Shakespeare down, having been in the 1993 film, Much Ado About Nothing, and on stage in Othello, Richard III and JuliusCaesar. Both have won multiple Academy Awards. 

Coen has put together a strong supporting cast led by Brendan Gleeson as Duncan, the doomed King of Scotland, Bertie Carvel as Banquo, Corey Hawkins as Macduff, and Moses Ingram as Lady Macduff. 

The film opens with the most disturbing characters of the production played with facial as well as bodily contortions by Kathryn Hunter. She plays the witches who set the story in motion prophesizing that Banquo and Macbeth, victorious in war, will be successful in life as well. Banquo will become the father of kings, and King Duncan will proclaim Macbeth Thane of Cawdor and that he will eventually become king. The thought of such power intoxicates Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, setting them both on a path to destruction.  

Stephan Déchantas production design is bare bones and shot by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel in Black and White, with an aspect ratio that makes it look square and confining. It appears more like a combination of film with theater, often looking, as if through a fine layer of gauze with shadows and light peering through. 

Coen has pared down much of the flowery Shakespearean dialogue, but the most recognized are still there. Washington speaks soft but fast and we had to get into the rhythm of his delivery. His emotions bubble as Macbeth’s madness progresses from fear and guilt. McDormand as Lady Macbeth is pulling the strings of Macbeth’s treachery until it becomes too much, even for her. McDormand’s closeups talking to the camera are effective, but the scene of her sleepwalking wasn’t very notable. Carter Burwell enhances the film with his score and added pounding that sounds like a heart beating slowly and loudly leads to the most dramatic scenes. 

Coen has pared down much of the flowery Shakespearean dialogue, but the most recognized are still there. Washington speaks soft but fast and we had to get into the rhythm of his delivery. His emotions bubble as Macbeth’s madness progresses from fear and guilt. McDormand as Lady Macbeth is pulling the strings of Macbeth’s treachery until it becomes too much, even for her. McDormand’s closeups talking to the camera are effective, but the scene of her sleepwalking wasn’t very notable.

We appreciate the uniqueness of this production and individuality of the performances by Washington and McDormand. Although this is not your classic expectation of Shakespeare, Coen presents a new way to envision the Bard. 

A24       1hour 45 minutes            R

The post The Tragedy of Macbeth first appeared on Movies and Shakers.

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