The Tragedy of Macbeth Review: A Visionary Interpretation of Classic Shakespeare

Lord Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and his wife (Frances McDormand) seize control of Scotland in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
“Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble,” the sinister opening lines of the three witches’ prophetic poem gets a sublimely artistic and well-acted cinematic adaptation from auteur Joel Coen. William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth has never been visualized or performed in such a creative way. Hollywood titans Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand lead a banner ensemble in the classic tale of bloody ambition and political machinations. Shot in crisp black and white with leering shadows, the entire film takes place on starkly geometric stages that depict a cold calculus. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a textbook example of collaborative greatness and one of the year's best films.
Scottish general Lord Macbeth (Denzel Washington) returns from the battlefield bathed in victory. King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) congratulates the renowned warrior for his accomplishments. Macbeth does not take kindly to the King, or the Prince (Harry Melling), gloating over his success. He leaves with his lieutenant, Ross (Alex Hassel), to return home. But has a fateful encounter with three witches (Kathryn Hunter) on the bleak moors.
Macbeth conveys the witches' prophecy to his conniving wife. Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) feeds her husband’s ego and insatiable need for power. He, not the feckless Duncan or his weak spawn, deserves to be the ruler of Scotland. Lady Macbeth lays an insidious plan for a coup. The plot achieves its goal, but the aftermath unleashes a reign of terror. Macbeth becomes unhinged from guilt and paranoid delusions.
The Tragedy of Macbeth looks extraordinary. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Darkest Hour) and production designer Stefan Dechant (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland) are in top form. The interplay of shadows and light in conjunction with the disturbing sets gives the film an eerie mood of impending doom. This becomes more pronounced as Macbeth succumbs to murder and madness. The technical prowess on display here is a remarkable achievement. It's rare to see a film this austere, yet still so imaginative.
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand have five Oscars between them. They are acting juggernauts and deliver excellence as expected. Macbeth and his wife are malevolent players. Their quest for power has no limit. McDormand whispers like a poisonous snake. Washington, who arguably has the most dominating screen presence of the modern era, is spectacularly ruthless. His mocking of an opponent in a pivotal fight scene will give you shivers. Shakespeare’s dialogue and blocking require refined ability. Two of cinema’s all-time greats seem effortless in their approach.
The final bow belongs to Joel Coen, who directs and writes his first solo film without his brother Ethan. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a unique interpretation of a historically famous play. Coen’s filmmaking skill stands above and beyond. You can assemble the finest talents and still have abject failure. Coen is a master conductor who succeeds grandly with his bold vision The Tragedy of Macbeth is a production of A24 and IAC Films. It will have a limited theatrical distribution on December 25th from A24. Then a global streaming premiere on January 14th on Apple TV+.
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