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The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) – Review: A Wicked Good Adaptation

November 19, 2021

Quick thoughts: Grade – A- – The Tragedy of Macbeth is a beautifully filmed adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play. The black and white cinematography, combined with the sparse and modernistic production design, create a dreamy world of death and consequences. 

When news broke that Joel Coen would be directing an adaptation of Macbeth featuring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington as Lady and Lord Macbeth, one couldn’t help but be thrilled about the final product. Historically, the Coen brothers, have successfully tackled adaptations of No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and The Odyssey (O’ Brother Where Art Thou), so, taking on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and its iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrameter rhythm seemed like a natural fit. The Coen brothers’ dialogue has always had its own rhythm, so to see them working with Shakespeare’s prose, and have their characters deliver all-timer lines like “Double, Double Toil and Trouble” and “Something wicked this way comes” was an exciting prospect.

The end product doesn’t disappoint as Joel Coen has delivered a sparse, dangerous, and beautiful looking film. He and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and production designer Stefan Dechant (True Grit, Sucker Punch), have created a world full of shadows, hard edges, sparsely decorated rooms, and a wild amount of fake fog, that fills the studios they filmed in.The simplicity of the sets (which definitely weren’t easy to design), which sometimes appears as nothing more than outlines in the distance, combine well with the moody, stage production-esque production design to make the world seem dangerous and bleak from the beginning. Also, the abundance of fog creates a world in which characters can’t see what’s in front of them, and it’s a fun reminder that Macbeth has no clue what his actions will bring forth. 

At only 105-minutes, it’s one of the shortest adaptations of Macbeth ever, but it’s filled to the brim with solid performances. Washington and McDormand are excellent as always, and their pairing is an inspired way to get two Academy Award winners in one room. The MVPs of the film are Alex Hassel (Ross), Corey Hawkins (MacDuff) and Kathryn Hunter, who plays the three witches, and steals every scene she’s in with her physicality and expert line delivery. Hawkins adds needed heart, energy, and overall goodness (he’s also really good in In the Heights), and it’s cool seeing him getting some huge moments to shine. The camera seems to love Hassel, who costume designer Mary Zophres (Hail, Caesar!,True Grit) dresses in slim-fitting costumes with thin floating strips of cloth that fit his messenger character well as he flows from room to room delivering news. The Tragedy of Macbeth has a deep bench of reliable performers, and you can see why they signed up for the film, because it gave them a chance to act alongside some of the best in the business. 

In the end, it’s a stripped down, and streamlined take on Macbeth that is truly a sight to behold. 

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