Time: 105 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence
Denzel Washington as Lord Macbeth
Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth
Corey Hawkins as Macduff
Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan
Harry Melling as Malcolm
Director: Joel Coen
A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power.
There are already plenty of adaptations of Macbeth out there, and it’s a little hard for me to get into any movies based on Williams Shakespeare’s work (mainly because of the dialogue). However, Joel Coen taking on the material had me highly anticipating his Macbeth movie, along with adding actors like Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. The Tragedy of Macbeth is an atmospheric, and moody Shakespeare adaptation, and with strong performances and direction.
There’s not really much to say about Macbeth’s writing since its still very much Shakespeare’s classic play. With that comes with the same confusing Shakespeare language and unless you’re very familiar with that kind of speech, it would probably be a problem for you. So if you’re going to watch it, its either best to watch it with subtitles on, or read up about the play beforehand to know what was happening. It was great getting to watch the movie in cinemas, but I do admit that I wished I had subtitles on. Thankfully, I knew the general plot having watched the 2015 Macbeth movie so I had an idea of where everything was going. I didn’t understand what was being said most of the time, but I expected that when I willingly watched a Macbeth movie. There really wasn’t anything new brought to the story thematically, it’s just the distinct style, but I guess that’s all that was needed.
There is a great cast involved. Denzel Washington is fantastic as Macbeth and delivers a powerhouse of a performance. Masterful, compelling, and a great on screen presence, its one of his best acting works I’ve seen from him. Frances McDormand is also really good as Lady Macbeth, she is in great command of every scene she’s in. Kathryn Hunter is also notable in her croaking, contortionist turn as the three witches, she is incredible in her scenes. Other actors like Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Harry Melling also play their parts very well, but its Washington, McDormand and Hunter that stand out the most.
As said before, Joel Coen directs this, and The Tragedy of Macbeth is very different from anything that the Coen brothers have done before. Its very bold and unconventional, it’s a technical marvel and one of the biggest strengths of the movie. The presentation is haunting, and the world portrayed here is very off kilter. The cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel is easily one of the best from 2021. In a way it is very minimalist but incredibly effective. You get caught up in its gorgeous black and white photography, with the German expressionism inspired and brutalist look, along with the 4:3 framing making the film feel very contained. The lighting, dense shadows, and the use of fog and smoke go towards giving it a haunting atmosphere. The sets are classic and old school, it felt like stage play sets with grandiose buildings. The editing is simple yet effective, and the transitions are seamless. The sound design is striking, and the score works incredibly well for the tone of the movie. An impressive part of the movie is that it manages to be both theatrical and cinematic. On a cinematic level it goes into the surreal with the memorable imagery. Yet it also works on a theatrical level, aspects like the dialogue heavy interactions, the long monologues, characters entering and exiting scenes, they all work together.
The Tragedy of Macbeth is very much an art film and a Shakespeare movie, so it definitely isn’t for everyone. But if you know what you’re getting into, I’d say that it is well worth a watch. It’s a superb technical achievement from the direction, cinematography and editing, and it has some excellent performances, especially from Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand and Kathryn Hunter. At the very least, it stands out as the Coens’ most distinct works.