THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is directed by Joel Coen. The film stars Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Stephen Root, and Brendan Gleeson. The music is by usual Coen collaborator Carter Burwell, and McDormand also serves as a producer on the film. The movie is based on MACBETH, the classic play by William Shakespeare.
Macbeth is a brave and powerful soldier in 11th century Scotland. Upon seeing visions of three mysterious witches and being spurned to act by his wife, he murders the former King, taking the throne for himself. But over time, his paranoia begins getting the better of him, causing him to commit more murders and atrocities to cover for his dastardly deeds. Will the couple keep the throne and regain their sanity, or are they doomed to die and meet their end at the hands of the opposition?
I’ll be the first to admit I’m certainly not a scholar of the works of William Shakespeare. But what I do know is that The Bard’s plays have made for some fantastic works of cinema, dating back to the beginning of film as a medium. There have been many classics and the few inevitable duds along the way, but Joel Coen strikes gold with his adaptation of MACBETH, creating one of the most haunting, beautiful, disturbing, and just plain entertaining films of 2021. The casting, cinematography, and unsettling atmosphere speak for themselves; THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH must be seen to be believed.
The casting of THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is its foremost strength. I’ll be the first to admit Denzel Washington isn’t the man I’d expect to play the play’s titular hero, but only a few minutes into watching this film, he’d won me over. He plays the role straight, the way The Bard intended, giving the role the gravitas it deserves without ever overacting or doing anything to make the audience find him unworthy here. Just as well suited to the Shakespearean subject matter is the always entertaining Frances McDormand, a regular Coen collaborator, who proves herself one again as the woman who can take on any role and give a performance worthy of the Best Actress Oscar. The movie’s supporting cast even includes the likes of Brendan Gleeson and Stephen Root. With very few exceptions, are no disappointments in the casting department here.
It’s the look and the atmosphere of THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH that seal the deal. Shot in 4:3 aspect ratio in beautiful black and white, the movie feels like an Ingmar Bergman film, and is perhaps even more unsettling. Set design is minimalist but effective, with the contrast between lights and darks surprisingly wide; I don't think I've ever seen shadows used so effectively in a film. The ratio enables many close-ups that let us gaze into the faces and the expressions of the cast, which guarantees everyone has to give their absolute best performance from start to finish. (You'll be happy to know they don't disappoint.) Patches of fog, cawing birds, desolate scenery, and The Bard’s classic and sinister plot stand strong throughout. THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH scared the hell out of me without even being a horror film. Put simply, the cast and crew here know what they’re doing.
I also admire and applaud the production for being true to Shakespearean style dialogue from the original play, retaining a truly classic feel throughout (again, I do stress that I’m not a scholar of The Bard’s works, so I can’t specifically say what, if anything, has been changed from the original play). At no point does this movie feel “dumbed down” for modern Millennial audiences. I do feel that, however, this could serve as the one possible weakness for any potential viewers, who may not fully understand the language/know what’s going on/etc. THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH is one of the greatest movies of the year, no questions asked, though I won’t deny I was struggling to keep up with the plot at times. Fans of the works of William Shakespeare likely won’t be disappointed here, but I can understand where, despite its gorgeous production and near-perfect casting and direction, the movie may struggle to reach mainstream audiences.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH isn’t only one of the best films of 2021; it’s one of the best adaptations of The Bard’s works I’ve ever seen. In the annuls of films based on the plays of Shakespeare, THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH deserves a place alongside Olivier’s HAMLET and Zeffirelli’s ROMEO AND JULIET. The cinematography is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a film, with its 4:3 ratio and black and white look hearkening back to the works of Bergman. The cast is top-notch, with McDormand and Washington giving Oscar-worthy performances. It’s unsettling and it’ll make you uneasy; something I mean in the best of ways. Joel Cohen has created a definitive Shakespeare film that must be seen to be believed.
Absolute highest recommendations, but don’t be surprised if you need to read a plot summary afterwards.