Thought to have been performed as far back as 1606, Oscar-Winning director Joel Coen (Fargo, Inside Llweyn Davis, No Country for Old Men), now gives us his interpretation of the Shakespeare classic “Macbeth.” Knowing the films he has been a part of, it won’t be a true revelation that this, too, is spectacular. It’s exquisite.
Joel is known for the monumentally wordy, absurd and idiosyncratic films he has created with his brother Ethan, for whom he usually works. How will his style fit this particularly long-loved stage play? Allow me to answer that question.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” has a magnificent cast, as well as director. Two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington (‘Training Day,’ ‘Malcolm X’) is our principal character. Frances McDormand from ‘Fargo’ and ‘Nomadland,’ (wife of Coen) is Lady Macbeth. They are marvelous in their roles are as other members of the cast. Stephen Root’s (‘Office Space,’ ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’) part seems to have been written especially for him. He’s a very convincing drunk. But it’s Washington and McDormand who amaze, inspire and almost frighten, for while their characters realize their bodies are aging, their villainous greed grows.
As we start, our Macbeth meets three ‘weird sisters.’ They’re seen at first as big black crows. In a haunting shriek, the main witch, played memorably by Kathryn Hunter, makes a prediction that Macbeth will be King of Scotland. The flapping sound of wings and her gnarled, contorted shape makes this scene even more peculiar and eerie.
The film is presented in black & white. This choice is superb because it brings a soft, shadowy edge, yet at the same time, a certain melancholy to the film that would not be observed in color. The lack of iridescence makes everything a target. Macbeth moves around almost completely empty sets, with big, oversized pieces when there is one. Without other actions plaguing the screen, his face, boots, and footsteps are focused on. This helps draw the audience into his world.
The sound design is also robust. So much so that it replaces the nearly barren set so well that you don’t miss it. Everything taken in so far, and we’re only at the beginning, is stunning. He sees a dagger and we hear the words, ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’ Did he really see one, or has paranoia gotten the better of him? Anyway, it’s at this point that we know we’re in for a treat for the rest of the film.
Reciting the dialogue beautifully here, Denzel will blow you away with his skillful acting once again. Only now, he’s using Shakespearean tongue, as a power-hungry man plotting the assassination of a king. Wickedly, Lady Macbeth reassures her husband that to murder the king, played by Brendan Gleeson (‘In Bruges,’ ‘Calvary’), would bring the prophecy to light. After the dastardly deed is done and having been party to the crime, Lady Macbeth loses her mind and ends it all. Macbeth then becomes distrustful, suspicious of everyone around him. Because of the death of his love and the ghastliness of what he has done, he now has his own demons to reconcile.
I thoroughly enjoyed “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” If you’ve never watched “Macbeth” in the past, consider allowing Coen to be the first to present it to you.
*Apple TV+ release of THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH will be released only in theaters this Saturday, December 25th exclusively showing at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Director: Joel Coen
Writer: Joel Coen
Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson and Stephen Root
Run Time: 1h 45m
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Thriller
Producers: Joel Coen, Robert Graf, Frances McDormand