“A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power.”

Director: Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen, William Shakespeare
Staring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Alex Hassell, Kathryn Hunter
Release Date: November 21, 2008

Good lord The Tragedy Of Macbeth (2021) looks incredible. All credit to director and screenplay adapter Joel Coen and director of photography Bruno Delbonnel for taking a story that is well known and making it interesting and solely individual.

It is Macbeth, and most people know this story even if they don’t necessarily know exactly where it came from.

Macbeth (Denzel Washington) is an elderly man with success and reputation on the battlefield. In his growing age, he is eying something more, something that isn’t tangible. His inner urges are gaslighted when a trio of witches speak to him and prophesize that he will become the next king of Scotland. Always wanting power and legacy for his own, Macbeth uses the witches words and his wife’s, Lady Macbeth (Francis McDormand), urging to climb atop the throne. The assent is fast, and the decline is swift. Power poisons the mind.

There are a few changes to this version of Macbeth than the traditional story renditions. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are older in this tale that in Shakespeare’s original piece. In The Tragedy Of Macbeth they are grasping for straws at the end of their lives rather than being filled with youthful ignorance to the illusions that power brings. It is not aspiration that solely lets Macbeth listen to the witches, but also desperation.

Additionally, one more change is in the death of Lady Macbeth. In the play, it is heavily hinted that Lady Macbeth kills herself after driving herself mad. In The Tragedy Of Macbeth, Joel Coen heavily implies that Ross has something to do with the passing of Lady Macbeth. We see her standing atop the stairs in her crazed way, and then we see Ross take a few steps in her direction while the rest of the chaos is happening around them. In the next scene, Lady Macbeth is dead.

There are for sure other changes as well, but I am no expect on the play. All I know is that this story of The Tragedy Of Macbeth is wonderful, beautiful and tragic.

Coen and Delbonnell, while excellent in their own right, owe a debt to production designer Stefan Dechant. The style The Tragedy Of Macbeth is remarkable. It is simplistic, elegant and wonderfully bare bones. The atmosphere that is created by Dechant sets all the action like a stage, and good old William Shakespeare would proud. The best example of this production design excellence comes when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are mourning the death of the just found dead Porter (Stephen Root). The shots of shadows and half faces add to the themes of deception and duplicity, but when that elevated slab porch in the courtyard is revealed and Ross (Alex Hassell) is seen looming of the presiding’s…god it just got my all in my happy feels.

Speaking of Hassell, he is the standout performer amongst all the star power in The Tragedy Of Macbeth. Hassell is the manipulator behind many of the misgivings that happen in the story, and his physical appearance is like that of a lizard always willing to seep through the cracks. His eyes also speak volumes. Hassell makes the most of his his screen time, outshining both Denzel Washington and Francis McDormand.

Let’s turn the page to Washington. He is really going after it. He is nominated for the official Academy Awards at the end of March, but he just falls off my list. The part of Macbeth is wrought for performance, and there are instances where Washington is chewing up the scene. However, in my lowly-estimation, it comes when other actors are on the screen.

The facial acting and body language enacted by Hassell and Washington at to their characters, but the sneaky best performance may come form someone who you never see their true face.

Kathryn Hunter plays the witches, and the old man in The Tragedy Of Macbeth. If you knew of Hunter before, you will not recognize her in these roles. Hunter uses her voice like a machete. She cuts through the shadows that hide her character face and leaves you with metaphorical scars. The witches push the susceptible elder man to the bring, and the old man is there to help the young power-hungry man with his plan to manipulate the power. Hunter is everywhere in this story. She is stirring the pot, and her voice is the ladle she feeds us well.

The least impressive performance in The Tragedy Of Macbeth is…dare I say…Frances McDormand? She is forgettable as Lady Macbeth and you see her as Frances McDormand; an older looking woman working through emotional struggles while trying to cope with the consequences she has made. This is a lot of McDormand performances in recent memory, and this one does not stick out amongst the rest. While the entire movie is well acted as a whole, this particular effort is straight par for the course.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth stands out as one of the best looking movies of the entire awards year. It is different in the way it approached a familiar story, and its use of simplicity and the depth of cast is refreshing for movies that like to overwhelm. The Tragedy Of Macbeth is the best Shakespeare adaption I have recently seen, and maybe ever have.

In terms of the 94th Academy Awards, The Tragedy Of Macbeth is nominated in three categories: Best Actor for Denzel Washington, Best Cinematography for Bruno Delbonnel, and best Production Design for Stefan Dechant. For myself in my nominations, I have Best Supporting Actor for Alex Hassell, Best Supporting Actress for Kathryn Hunter, Best Cinematography for Bruno Delbonnel, Best Director for Joel Coen, Best Film Editing For Lucian Johnston, Best Picture, Best Production Design for Stefan Dechant, Best Sound for Carter Burwell and Best Adapted Screenplay for Joel Coen.

STANKO RATING: A (4.5/5 Stars)


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