Joel Coen’s The Tragedy Of Macbeth is one of those films that will leave audiences frozen in their seats. The awe striking visual element from Bruno Delbonnel leans into the surrealism of Joel’s vision for this adaption of Macbeth. There’s an encroaching darkness in the atmosphere, spurred on by the incredible performances and harrowing sense of dread in the harsh black tones. The entire cast delivers the source material to unbelievable, discerning highs.
The verse of Shakespeare is a powerful tool at the hands of Denzel Washington, giving one of his best performances as Macbeth – as he leans into the existentialism and avant-garde of this style. Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, also fully investing in the role and the mood of the direction. Even further, Kathryn Hunter playing the “three weird sisters” as described by Macbeth, was a revelation. In both a visual and performances sense, the scenes with the witches are filled with ruinous stimulation that are striking. Her presence alone makes up the atmospherics.
Additionally, the editing blends all the conflicting storylines flawlessly, making the use of expressionistic lighting against the tight, stage-like production design to build the atmosphere. In past Coen films, they’ve dipped into German expressionism and the avant-garde but only for a brief period of time. The use of Shakespeare allowed Joel to fully explore his eccentricities as a director and embrace the bizarre nature of the character of Macbeth. In no surprise, he creates a fully realized version of the material and one of the best adaptations.
It’s akin to Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal – an existential journey through life and death. A fantastical, surrealistic mind-fuck of a journey that leads to beaitifully bleak vistas. The film is driven by those eye-exploding visual compositions, aided along by innovative lighting. One of the best uses of black and white cinematography I’ve ever seen. Bruno Delbonnel continues to create mind-blowing work.
Simultaneously, Denzel Washington is simply magic in the lead role. The staying power of his delivery will last forever, as he weaves an arc in both expression and tone through the dialogue. The dagger monologue, the slipping reality of Macbeth’s worldview, and the building truth behind the witches’ prophetic visions all built though Denzel’s character work. He’s entrancing in the approach to the Macbeth tragedy and succeeded even my loftiest expectations for him in this role. He sets the tone for the rest of the cast and they deliver on the pounding, manic tone of the storytelling.
Lastly, the Carter Burwell score is understated but one of his most unique works. In going along with Joel’s approach, Burwell is at his most unorthodox. It works beautifully with the underlying danger of the narrative and the outwardly visual cruelty. It’s amazing how the film captures emotion through visuals alone, able to speak as a God figure able to spotlight characters.. Obviously, it’s early but this could end up being one of my favorite Coen films. A hauntingly dark painting of one of history’s great tragedies.