The Tragedy of Macbeth movie review: Denzel Washington delivers a masterclass in one of the year’s best pictures.
Review of the film The Tragedy of Macbeth: Denzel Washington is a victory in a cast of exceptional calibre. The actor is a masterclass who doesn’t need any trappings to be regal.
Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson, and Corey Hawkins star in the film The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Joel Coen is the director of the film The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Power is a desolate terrain fuelled by blood, ambition, and fears – oh, so many worries. This Shakespeare play appears to be an unusual choice for Joel Coen, half of the Coen brothers. However, in both adapting and directing it, Joel Coen exposes this ultimate narrative of power and its cost for what it is – all that sound and fury for naught. His Macbeth is aged and battered, but he is also torn and driven. As the germ of an idea is implanted in him by a prophecy that calls to him from the misty, desolate country that is his home, it digs deeper and deeper, clawing at things buried within Macbeth and bearing fruits he can’t bear at first and then can’t resist.
Lady Macbeth by the Coen brothers is bold and ambitious, straightforward and resolute. When the same notion is implanted in her, she grips at it, nurtures it, grooms it, and guarantees it doesn’t die, only to reap fruits she initially enjoys and later can’t tolerate. The two main characters, played by Washington and McDormand, discover that their act of murder to steal the monarchy binds them together and eventually tears them apart. The Macbeth Tragedy reveals the appeal of temptation, the lies we tell ourselves in order to succumb to it, the price we are willing to pay for our deepest desires, the shadows that keep us awake at night, and the fears that breed more fears.
The picture is a masterpiece of chiaroscuro, with light and dark coexisting and clashing, much like its major protagonists, and is shot in black and white (cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel). (It’s a shame, then, that the film is only available on Apple TV and not in theatres.) The art direction of Jason T Clark imagines this royal universe as a bleak, featureless environment of towering pillars, infinite corridors, and stone-cold walls — where no secrets remain hidden. That never-ending knocking Macbeth hears could be anything from a death knell to a barren tree pounding on a window. Macbeth’s home is the territory of Scotland, which he has committed the ultimate sin to conquer, delivering no rewards to the victor. According to Macbeth, what he has slaughtered is even the innocent sleep.
Then there are the witches, all three of whom are played by Hunter. She arrives out of nowhere, a black-clad gnome writhing in infinite sand, twisting her body here and there, difficult to summon and impossible to forget. Ravens, circling, shrieking above, watching and narrowing in on the exhausted warriors in constant battle, are the only life in this land besides the weary men in constant battle. You’ll never know how many witches there are, whether they’re one or two or three, whether they’re tricks of the mind, imaginations of one’s deepest wishes, or foretellers of one’s terrors.
McDormand (also Coen’s wife, who frequently appears in his films) is frigid and disdainful at first, as the woman who must push her husband toward what she perceives as his destiny — “wouldst not play foul but wouldst incorrectly win,” she whispers. Her strength flees her almost as completely as it pushed her, leaving both her body and mind broken as the aftermath dawns.
Washington, on the other hand, is a triumph in a cast of exquisite excellence. The actor who needs no trappings to be regal is a virtuoso, almost annoyingly silhouette-like at first, indistinguishable from the shadows where he hides from his acts — “false face must hide what the false heart doth know” — until the fires of hell consuming him destroy him. He surges forth in their full view, as a figure defying both time and tide.