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Film Review

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Directed by Joel Coen
From: Apple TV+
Released: 12.25.21
Review by Julian Lytle | December 17, 2021 at 2:00 PM
Grade: B+

Basically: Another rendition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not giving you an overview of Macbeth. At this point, you either read it in school or you’ve seen another version. If not, there’s Wikipedia, cliff notes, or even certain episodes of Disney’s Gargoyles (although it takes liberties). 

Denzel Washington plays Macbeth and Frances McDormand plays Lady Macbeth in this tale of ambition and entitlement. You see these two older people in a stage of their life when they both want more—asking the question: If not now then when? 

Photo: Apple Studios

The Tragedy of Macbeth is held up by two things: the performances and the cinematography. It is clearly shot on a stage but the use of black and white, along with digital effects reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, gives the story a play-like feel. Also, it’s interesting to see one of the Coen brothers do a solo adventure in filmmaking and it’s a fine effort. You can see the influence of Throne of Blood along with a little of the Orson Welles effect. 

The cast feels like they are on a stage and we are in the seats watching them act their butts off. Washington gets to go from charismatic current Denzel into full Alonzo from the end of Training Day when Macbeth becomes mad with power and paranoia. As for McDormand, I can’t say anything more that hasn’t been said over the last ten years or so. She gives stellar performances every time she’s on-screen. 

Photo: Apple Studios

Rounding out some of the cast is Corey Hawkins as MacDuff, Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan, and Alex Hassell as Ross. The use of a completely colorblind cast works especially in black and white and allows you to focus on the characters and performances. Hawkins is fantastic and holds his own with Denzel in each scene they share. Hassell also plays his role with a very surreal feel which, along with how the whole film looks, adds a wonderful tone. 

But the standout is Kathryn Hunter as the Witches. The way she plays all of them and one of them, as well as the different way those scenes are portrayed is fire. Her presence and the way she contorts her face and body is utterly captivating. 

In the End: The Tragedy of Macbeth is an interesting new visual interpretation of the classic play and worth a watch. 

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