by Kevin Muller
Hark! Lend me thy ears. The cunning artist, Joel Coen, minus his brother, Ethan, has a new work. It is an adaptation of the Sir William Shakespeare’s most notable work MacBeth. The Gods have placed upon Sir Coen, a fleet of admired performers to take this darkened journey with him. Does he prevail?
The centuries old tale shows the loyal and fierce general, MacBeth, coming home to his kingdom. After his encounter with three mysterious witches, who inform him he will be in line for king, he abruptly discovers that he has been passed over. This is the catalyst for the tragic events that unfold, which slowly eat away at MacBeth’s life and psyche.
Joel Coen, half of the famous Coen Brothers, is without Ethan for this one, so does the loss of one Coen affect the quality of the directing? Absolutely not! This is a homerun of a film that is pitch perfect in almost every way. Coen is so good that he makes this all seem like a walk in the park. It all seems so effortless. First off, the decision is shoot in black and white gives the film a classic feel. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel provides a feast for the eyes. Every beautiful shot seems to be meticulously staged. It is as if Coen and Delbonnel were in perfect sync while filming. Additionally, Coen decided to film this all on a sound stage. Not only does this make it feel like theater, but it makes it all more personable as well. Coen is too good of a director to make this feel stale or like a half-assed adaptation. Him and Delbonnel create a cinematic masterpiece out of a centuries old story. The camera moves through shadows, fire, mist, water, and perfectly sells the emotion of the story. Delbonnel has created a visual masterpiece. This is something that has got to be seen on the big screen.
While Debonnel’s work is legendary, as is Coen’s directing and writing, it is only two pieces of the puzzle. Coen has collected some of the best actors to make this dialogue come to life. Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand, plays Lady MacBeth. Is it any surprise that she is incredible spewing out Shakespeare’s dialogue? She is the fire that ignites MacBeth to push the plot forward in a very unfortunate direction. As with her husband, McDormand makes it all seem easy. Her descension into madness is any actress’s dream role and she succeeds in her interpretation. One of the main draws of this movie was being able to see Denzel Washington, one of the greatest actors working today, do Shakespeare. He doesn’t disappoint. Looking weathered and old, Washington takes us on the journey into one man’s obsession with power, which ultimately leads to his downfall. Many scenes have him dialoguing alone, and Washington holds our attention through every word. Shakespeare is the ultimate test for an actor’s skillset. Outside of his beautiful delivery, he digs into who MacBeth is and the price he pays for his evil deeds. As with Lady MacBeth, he loses his mind because of guilt and regret. You can feel it all of this through Washington’s intensity. It is just a joy to watch.
Though the performance that is a standout belongs to Kathryn Hunter. She may not be as well known as her co-stars, but she gives one of the great performances of the year. Hunter, a veteran of theater, especially Shakespeare, plays all three witches that haunt MacBeth. Her delivery is astonishing, but what makes her performance so memorable is the physicality she brings to the role. Coen dedicates an entire scene just to show how she can contort her body while reciting the lines. It is both disturbing and fascinating to behold. Each time she is on screen, you can feel the melancholy waft over the scene. You just can’t take your eyes off her. She is worth the price of admission alone.
When approached to play the role, Washington had reservations about changing the color of the title character, who is Scottish. When he questioned Coen about the color change, the director thought Washington was talking about the decision to shoot in black and white. He frankly responded that it was going to be in black and white, end of conversation. Washington laughed and knew that he was in the right hands. Run forth to your nearest theater…this is one of the best films of the year!
I am giving The Tragedy of Macbeth a 5 out of 5 Hairpieces