The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth ★★★★

Even though there have been adaptations before that managed to convey the atmosphere and theatricality of Shakespeare's Macbeth with striking success (Kurzel, Welles, even Kurosawa), none of them struck quite such a chord with me as Joel Coen did with this new adaptation.

Considering the previous work of the Coen Brothers, it might come as a surprise just how inaccessible The Tragedy of Macbeth feels overall. Joel Coen's experience as a director impacts every creative decision here; this is a director in complete control and supervision of his craft. The result may be a profusely polished art-house film that seems more old-fashioned than what one might have hoped for – or, depending on your experience, it may also be a passionately performed, excellently staged adaptation that successfully captures the Shakespeare of its source material.

Even if Joel Coen's approach to the material might not always be resonating with everyone, there is no denying that some true experts crafted this. The lightning and Bruno Delbonnel's stunning cinematography succeed to capture the almost dream-like, stylized setting, and Carter Burwell's score is a forceful instrument that builds tension steadily before culminating in a powerful climax. Equally, the cast ensemble is stunning across the board: Brendan Gleeson, Harry Melling and Corey Hawkins are stellar; Denzel Washington provides a dedicated performance that, truth be told, left me missing the fury of his character, besides one memorable moment; but it's Frances McDormand who dominates the screen with every ounce of her presence.

Accessibility will be key for most viewers of The Tragedy of Macbeth, I assume, but from a technical perspective, this appears to be the most professionally executed theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare's play I have seen so far. Loved it personally (though Burwell's score a little more than everything else), but I have no doubt that English teachers will love to see their high school students suffer through this film in future, and every single one of those students will find it stiff and lifeless.

Included in: 2021 | A24 | Joel Coen

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