The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2021 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Joel Coen Actors: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson, Miles Anderson, Matt Helm, Moses Ingram

 


 

K

ing Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) receives word of the bravery and victory of Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) over their enemies, awarding the former with a new title. But as the two warriors journey home, they come across three witches, who pose a prophecy that Macbeth will eventually become king of Scotland – a thought that unsettles yet intrigues him. And his wife, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), is more than encouraging, quick to whip up a plot to murder Duncan in the hopes of speeding up the unholy prediction. “If we should fail…”

Following the verbiage of Shakespeare’s play, the dialogue is immediately poetic yet arcane; it definitely helps to see the striking visualizations and the context of conversations to work out the meanings. Anyone familiar with the plot will know the direction, but for newcomers, the challenging words aren’t so easy to unravel. Nevertheless, the performers let them roll smoothly off their tongues; they generate a naturalness, making it sound as if quite comfortable with the elaborate text. Since this is a largely straightforward version, though a hint darker and fiercer, writer/director Joel Coen’s influence isn’t always evident.

It’s also helpful that the casting is keen; most of the choices look their parts and handle the personas well. It’s actually several of the supporting roles that prove most authentic (Kathryn Hunter as a wyrd sister is magnificently unnerving, as are the two cutthroats [Scott Subiono and Brian Thompson]), though McDormand is spectacularly convincing as the conspiring matriarch. Washington, while effective, doesn’t always maintain genuineness; his expressions and deliveries fluctuate, occasionally appearing minimally unfitting in the settings and environments. Interestingly, the production design is also intermittently unharmonious; costumes, makeup, and props look appropriate, but the castle interiors and exterior landscapes possess a dreamlike, minimalistic oddness. They’re a little too sparse and clean and plain, as if meant to resemble shadow-shrouded, moody stage arrangements as opposed to real locales (intentional and amusing, but perhaps unwanted to purists). The black-and-white cinematography contributes to the general spotlessness, as well as defining a precise chiaroscuro nightmare, like a Murnau horror.

“Full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife.” As guilt and paranoia consume the Thane, he’s pushed to continue his bloody transgressions, carving a path of death and destruction. And, as the “tragedy” of the title informs, Macbeth is doomed to lose his mind and his wellbeing in his pursuit of greater nobility (or tyranny). The classic tale itself is powerful and influential and morbid (yet still not Shakespeare’s most adored work), though this adaptation primarily serves to offer different actors and a somewhat original visual presentation (reminiscent of “The Seventh Seal” and German Expressionism, with an unusually energetic, cinematic showdown), which will surely appeal only to a select audience. It’s technically proficient, but will likely be entertaining solely to those seeking out the latest take on a perennial masterpiece of the Bard.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10