Based off William Shakespeare’s famous play, the temptation of power proves fatal in
The Tragedy of Macbeth, a film directed and adapted for the screen by Joel Coen. Solid acting all around complement a brilliantly cinematographic use of shadow and light to give viewers an awesome and chilling encounter. The positive factors mostly offset any issue following the dated dialogue to bring about a satisfactory experience.
When Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) come upon an intriguing presence along their journey, they have no idea how fateful this unexpected meeting will have on their lives. This presence is not one person but actually three witches who bestow upon them a prophecy tempting and troubling to hear at the same time. Macbeth is to become Thane of Cawdor and to be endowed with power, while Banquo is to have sons who will become kings. By the time Lord and Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) receive King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), they have devised a plan to seize power, and in so doing thwart the king’s plan to set up Malcom (Harry Melling) as his heir. Greed and madness are ready to overtake Macbeth after his plan to neutralize Banquo’s threat to overthrow him. Struggling to maintain control when he once again encounters the three witches, he is hopeful that the next prophecy will keep him in power and Duncan’s son, Malcom as well as the disgruntled Macduff (Corey Hawkins), on the other side of the woods.
Coen makes a lot of great decisions in this adaptation of Macbeth. Of special note is bringing out the art of cinema from the play. During a few of the dialogues, viewers may be able to picture the actors on a stage, but that is often interrupted by the fantastic camera work, showcasing a fascinating mixture of shadowing and shading with natural and artificial light. Drops of water and blood and the clanking of shoes on marble and wood are loud and magnified; they provide depth and anticipation of the upcoming moment. The sound department gets a lot of credit for this, and so does cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. For those less familiar with Shakespeare’s writing, the dated dialogue can be challenging to follow, but the patient viewer will have no trouble as Coen brings suspense in almost every scene. The acting is quite good overall, and Denzel Washington proves he can do the classics as well. Of special note is McDormand’s exceptional performance.
The Tragedy of Macbeth has a few lulls, but the payoffs are worth it. Viewers will find the black and white production enthralling as long as they give it time to develop. Though it has an R rating for violence, the “turn away” moments are few. Fans of the play should enjoy it, fans of cinematography should appreciate it, and fans of both will delight in tragedy.