TRAGEDY OF MACBETH poster | ©2021 Apple

TRAGEDY OF MACBETH poster | ©2021 Apple

Rating: R
Stars: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Kathryn Hunter, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson
Writer: Joel Coen, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Director: Joel Coen
Distributor: A24
Release Date: January 14, 2022

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is the most recent film rendition of William Shakespeare’s oft-adapted classic. It technically qualifies as a 2021 release, but IMDb lists its premiere date as January 14, 2022, so we’ll go with that. It stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. It’s available in theaters and on Apple TV+. Oh, yes, and it’s terrific.

Director/screenwriter Joel Coen has turned in THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH in at a brisk hour and forty-six minutes. The movie is shot in crisp, ominous black-and-white by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, which gives it a ‘40s look and a timeless feel.

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH opens with the three witches talking to each other, over images of birds circling in a stormy sky. Kathryn Hunter plays all of the witches, and should be given her own horror movie forthwith – her performance encapsulates magic, mystery and malice.

Victorious Scottish war heroes Macbeth, played by Washington, and Banquo (Bertie Carvel), come across the witches on their homeward journey. The witches prophesize that Macbeth will be given the title of Thane of Cawdor, and will eventually become king. While Banquo will not be king himself, he shall be the father of kings.

Both men are unnerved by the encounter, but dismiss the witches’ words. But when the duo arrives in the court of good King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), he promptly makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. It’s enough to make a man believe, and stoke his ambitions.

Washington and filmmaker Coen show us Macbeth’s descent from decency into ruthlessness and madness as a step-by-step process. At the beginning, he is well aware of the choices he is making.

In this version, while McDormand’s Lady Macbeth is resolute in her own will, it seems like Macbeth is less swayed by her counsel than by his own thoughts. When he protests to her about the course they’re setting out on, he’s not so much objecting to the idea as asking for encouragement.

Both performances are excellent, making clear every choice and every point. Coen also gives Washington’s Macbeth a powerful fight sequence (and not the one we’re expecting, either), where we see why he has been such a respected warrior.

The casting is superb across the board. Corey Hawkins is an outstanding Macduff, self-blaming and enraged. Special mention should be made of Alex Hassell as Ross. Normally a minor messenger, here Ross is a major if ambiguous player. We cannot tell whether Ross has a political agenda, or if he is an Earthly agent of the witches. Either way, Hassell’s ability to be sincere, frightening, or enigmatic as the moment demands is impressive.

Coen has a marvelous visual imagination. When Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, it’s a thrilling sequence. He also makes great use of water, reflection, and shadows. Stefan Dechant is responsible for the streamlined but elegant production design.

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is a glorious adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, and a magnificent piece in its own right. The recommendation from this scribe is to get thee hence and witness it.

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