The Tragedy of Macbeth

Out, damned spot! Joel Coen’s best movie in years!

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” is the first masterpiece in which Joel Coen doesn’t work with his brother Ethan, and yet, he has the nerve to tell William Shakespeare’s story in his own light. In fact, he retells the story like it is with the R-rating it’s supposed to have. It’s supposed be be violent and evil, which represents the nature of the title character, and Coen succeeds even on his own.

He also has an all-star cast of both races (white-caucasian and African-American)-Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Bertie Carvel, Moses Ingram, Stephen Root, Ralph Ineson, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Brendan Gleeson-who are all committed to the tragedy with how the dialogue is spoken, and how they all ease into their characters.

You know the story set in Scotland. Lord Macbeth (Washington) meets three witches (all played by Kathryn Hunter) who prophesize that he will be the next king. King Duncan (Gleeson) says his son Malcolm (Melling) is next in line, and so Lord and Lady Macbeth (McDormand) both plot to murder the king. He pulls it off, orders two assassins to murder his former alley Banquo (Carvel), and must battle the good guy Macduff (Hawkins), who is labeled as the main antagonist.

Yes, you know the story, but you have to see how Coen directs and presents the story in a black-and-white format, and how the actors are able to represent those moments. Of course, people are going to get slaughtered or lose their marbles, but those scenes are photographed tremendously well by Bruno Delbonnel.

The visual world of “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is beyond dazzling. I love how Lord Macbeth picks up part of the water where Banquo communicates through. There’s a haunting scene when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks (“Out, damned spot”), while others look on. The art direction with the castle and trees has that Coen Brothers feel. And the black-and-white scope of the whole movie really spices things up. In fact, this has been quite a season for black-and-white movies with “C’mon C’mon,” “Passing,” “Belfast,” “The French Dispatch,” and “The Velvet Underground.”

Washington didn’t hesitate when Coen asked him to portray MacBeth, and from beginning to end, I was absorbed and enthralled by how complex, how profound, and how brilliant he portrays such an evil man. McDormand, who usually connects well with her husband in such opus as “Fargo” and “Burn After Reading,” finds the balance and persistence inside Lady Macbeth, especially since she played her on stage when she was 14. Both these actors are phenomenal as Lord and Lady Macbeth, matter of fact.

Hawkens is also great in the film, when he represents how Macduff feels about his family being murdered, Gleeson is well-picked as the king with his age and tone, Melling matches the tone of the heir to the throne, Hunter has her bizarre and warped style as the three witches, and Root has a silly scene as the alcoholic porter. So, we have supporting actors, who are as equally excellent as the two leads.

The story is about how some ambitions can lead to wicked intentions. After all, “something wicked this way comes.” Sometimes, you see the soul of the wit, but mostly, you see the sinister nature of it all, and acknowledge how Shakespeare crafted them.

A good friend of mine loaned me a copy of Roman Polanski’s take on the tragedy, which was also excellent by the way, because of how well the late Jon Finch portrayed him. To present the Shakespeare tale on film is to understand the soul and evils of the title character, his ambitions, and intentions. Polanski knew the stakes, and now, Coen does, too.

I saw this film at the New York Film Festival, and I think this is Coen’s best and most far out entry since “No Country for Old Men.” And Ethan Coen may be taking a break from filmmaking to focus on theater work, but I think he would be proud of his older brother.

Rating: 4 out of 4.

In Select Theaters Christmas Day

Streaming on AppleTV+ January 14

Categories: Drama, History, Thriller

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