THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH – Review by Susan Granger
As a first-time solo director, Joel Coen takes a sparse, stylized look at one of Shakespeare’s most compelling plays.
Filming in austere black-and-white, he presents an abstract physical world that’s filled with deep, geometric shadows, sharp angles and bleak walls, focusing on an ambitious middle-aged couple, determined to usurp political power in medieval Scotland.
The bloodthirsty tale begins with General Macbeth (Denzel Washington) victorious after quelling a rebellion against King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), who subsequently names his son Malcolm (Harry Melling) Prince of Cumberland and heir to the throne.
For his valor, Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor, fueling a treacherous desire for even greater recognition. Heading home with his comrade Banquo (Bertie Carvel) as cackling crows circle overhead, weary Macbeth has a supernatural encounter with shapeshifting, soothsaying witches (embodied by British contortionist/actress Kathryn Hunter), who cryptically address him as “King hereafter.”
Across the moors, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) relishes this propulsive prophecy, concocting a ruthless regicide plot. Then when Lord Macduff (Corey Hawkins) flees to England with Duncan’s son Malcolm, Macbeth takes twisted revenge by killing Macduff’s wife (Moses Ingram) and children. “Blood will have blood.”
But manipulative Lady Macbeth’s scheming treachery takes its toll, driving her into sleepwalking madness, alarming her courtiers, including the doctor (Jefferson Mays), who observes, “Unnatural deed do breed unnatural troubles.”
For his first foray into solo directing, Joel Coen evokes the familiar noir concept of greed & wealth leading to betrayal & death that’s characterized his previous work (18 films including No Country for Old Men) with brother Ethan.
Coen’s ensemble delivers at a superlative level that should lead to Oscar nominations Working with set designer Stefan Dechant, French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel stresses surreal, theatrical minimalism, while Carter Burwell delivers an ominous orchestral score.
Historically, there have been many screen adaptations, including Orson Welles’ in 1948, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood in 1957, Roman Polanski’s in 1971, and Justin Kurzel’s in 2015.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, The Tragedy of Macbeth is an inspired, audacious 8, streaming on Apple TV+.