The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

“Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell. That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.”

I was this close to being disappointed with The Tragedy of Macbeth. Not with the film itself, but with my experience in seeing it in a theater. What I mean by that surrounds the sound quality the film started out with. It wasn’t the films sound but the presets in my local theater that made the dialogue sound muffled as if we are all in a tunnel while the music was perfectly crisp and clear sounding. Other patrons felt as I did and got the theater involved in which the issue was fixed promptly maybe a few minutes into Macbeth’s (Denzel Washington) tragically deceitful plan to become king. 

The sound nearly took me out of the film, I was disengaged until the sound was fixed, after that, however, writer director Joel Coen dragged me into this world of William Shakespeare’s mind and kept me engrossed with every single frame of the film. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a visual powerhouse, its breathtakingly gorgeous and half the time I just sat there and admired the artistic visual direction Joel Coen chose to tell his version of Macbeth in. Every frame is a painting, shadows are particularly used brilliantly while the use of contrast fills each frame with the darkest blacks to the lightest whites. Added to the color palette is an aspect ratio to give the perception of old Hollywood which still feels intimate and self-contained that stage plays have and very few film adaptations grasp correctly.

I’m not the biggest fan of Shakespeare, the last encounter I had with any material was in middle school, maybe high school so the dialogue is full throttle, unrelenting old English. Knowing the scope of the story, even a fraction of what the play is about is enough to keep your attention while the cadence of the dialogue will take a few scenes to get down. This is where Denzel shines the most. His performance is raw, grizzled, and fierce. His experience as an actor over his illustrious career made him a perfect fit for the role of Macbeth.

With Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, Washington gives the two actors some competition in the Best Actor category. 

When Macbeth is visited by 3 witches (Kathryn Hunter) after a victorious battle alongside Banquo (Bertie Carvel), who prophesize Macbeth to be king, him and Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) carry out a plot to kill Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) and his servants. Macduff (Corey Hawkins) discovers the body and flee’s to England along with Malcolm (Harry Melling), Duncan’s heir to the throne. As king, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth become paranoid and fearful of usurpation of their power. Lady Macbeth begins to sleepwalk, and Macbeth begins to hallucinate. To tie up loose ends of their deceit, Macbeth has Macduff’s family killed as well as Banquo and his son Fleance (Lucas Barker). Stricken with grief, Macduff and Malcolm raise an army to dethrone Macbeth while the prophecy states that a man not born of a woman will dethrone the usurped king.

With the Academy awards right around the corner and award season well under way, The Tragedy of Macbethis sure to be in the conversation among the best 2021 had to offer. And what a year it was for films with so many making their claim for best picture. Joel Coen directing Macbeth solo from his partner and brother Ethan skips no beats able to perfectly channel the tragedy of his main character like all the Coen’s main characters. Macbeth is as villainous as Anton Chigurh and when Washington speaks, all the noise is downed out. His chemistry with Frances McDormand isn’t as polished as promised but both give outstanding performances as expected. Coen’s direction with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s camerawork make this adaptation feel like a theatrical production. Black and white was the only choice for this film – its somehow richer in color with the use of only 2. Besides Washington and McDormand, Corey Hawkins absolutely shines in his role of Macduff. All the grief, anger, betrayal, and rage are brought to life with his performance.Hawkins has come a long way since Straight Outta Compton appearing in In the Heights earlier in the year. 

In an oversaturated year of releases, The Tragedy of Macbeth was on my list of most anticipated as the year went on (and that is with every powerhouse Oscar bait films already being released) and Joel Coen and team absolutely delivered. Even though the language is technically English, getting used to it is no problem, though, being able to view it on Apple Tv Plus with the option of added subtitles makes the film a bit easier to digest.

Without the Shakespeare element, Joel Coen would still be able to master a story of this caliber. Murder, lies, deception and betrayal are all in the Coen’s wheelhouse – alone or together, they create rich, modern consuming story’s that have a way to stay with a viewer well after the film has ended. I’m still in awe of what I witnessed, especially with the visuals. Denzel and Frances giving their level of performances is just the icing on the cake among a talented ensemble cast.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is given the Coen makeover. It’s a story that brings a familiarity to Joel Coen’s style of direction and how he approaches filmmaking. Though it may not appeal to the wider audience, there is something to admire in every aspect of this film – Macbeth is a technically bulletproof film. I would have preferred better chemistry between the two leads (it’s just a nitpick, Washington and McDormand worked very well together) but both still give outstanding performances. Add Carter Burwell’s score to breathe more life into an already powerhouse of a film.

Written By: Joel Coen

Directed By: Joel Coen

Music By: Carter Burwell

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson

Where to Watch: Apple Tv Plus

Release Date: December 25, 2021

Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

My Score: 4.5 out of 5

Based On: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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