Photo courtesy of Apple TV+
Unless you’ve been living under a film-free rock, the writer-director duo, the Coen brothers, should sound familiar. Joel and Ethan Coen are responsible for writing and directing some of the most iconic films of all time, such as “The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother Where Art Thou,” and “No Country for Old Men.” All three of these films, along with the rest of their filmography, have one thing in common — both brothers were involved in the development of the film.
In an unprecedented move, Joel Coen recently made his solo directorial debut with “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” a beautiful adaptation of the classic Shakespeare play “Macbeth.”
The Coen Brothers are no strangers to borrowing from classic stories. The aforementioned film, “O Brother Where Art Thou,” is a loose adaptation of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” However, they have never directly adapted a classic tale for the big screen before, which is a shame considering how good this film is. Joel perfectly interprets the Shakespearean legend into a surreal black and white nightmare.
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” has an incredibly interesting visual style. Upon starting the film, most viewers will notice the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio, purposefully chosen to accentuate the claustrophobic nature of Macbeth’s story and make the film feel more like a stage play.
The theatrical elements of this film are a result of both the aspect ratio and the stellar performances from the entire cast. “The Equalizer” and “Training Day” star Denzel Washington expertly plays Macbeth in his tragic journey to become a king. Washington has a wonderful voice and such a powerful and noble presence in the role. His monologues are the highlight of the movie by far. Starring alongside Washington is another veteran actress, Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth. McDormand also has an incredibly powerful presence onscreen that perfectly captures the character’s massive ambitions for her husband.
The film’s greatest achievement is in its set design and lighting. Macbeth’s castle feels like a dingy surreal void, where the environment transforms to match the mood of the characters that inhabit them. The effort used to create the scenes is represented by the film’s painstaking cinematography and beautiful visuals.
My only complaint is the film is at times hard to follow. This is my first exposure to the legend of Macbeth, and I probably should have read the original play first. The actors talk quickly in old English which, while a perfect interpretation of how Shakespeare plays are meant to be performed, is hard to understand without very close listening. The film’s surreal staging and cinematography definitely does not help either. There is very little in this film for the average viewer to latch onto, and I appreciate how alien it feels.
I strongly recommend “The Tragedy of Macbeth” for any fans of the Coen Brothers, surreal movies, or people like myself who like to follow what A24 releases. The film is still available in some theaters and was added to Apple TV+ on January 14.