William Shakespeare’s 1606 stage play, Macbeth, has been one of his works that have transcended time. The themes of power, the lengths one will go to get it, supernatural forces, and the anxieties prophetic words may cause – it’s many themes that can apply to a modern medium. Although adapted for the big screen, director Rob Cohen is mindful of the small stage. The Shakespearean verses have been left untouched, where the pacing of the film and the immensely talented cast can bend them not to overwhelm the audience. The talented production designer Stefan Dechant and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel work together to create an atmosphere that you will marvel at for its beauty and emphasize tragedy in every sense of the word.
Delbonnel knows how to invoke both space and emotions when needed. Often going tight on a character’s face during a passionate monologue and wide when he wants to invoke distance within the black and white noir-style areas. Dechant’s sets that Cohen shot on a sound stage will feel like an upscale Broadway production. Even more so, the scenes that contain dark plots, secrets, and revenge – sometimes outdoors or in a large room feel like a separate character.
While expectant, The Tragedy anchors on Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Lord and Lady Macbeth. Both bring a committed presence to the material at hand. Kathryn Hunter is a prominent standout as the witches. Sometimes it’s one – sometimes it’s three apparitions. All in a distinct, memorable style that marks each encounter’s importance. She brings about a sense of foreboding dreariness that goes together with the film’s aesthetic. She’s a whisper in the ear of a man who is already staring at the end. Washington’s Lord Macbeth isn’t particularly remorseful for killing King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson).
Still, he falls into the fever of aggressively covering his tracks. McDormand’s Lady Macbeth serves as an anchor – there is much riding on this act for her as well, after all. Between the words of an apocalyptic reckoning and the encouragement of the woman closest to him, everything feels like the shovel that unearths buried bad intentions. As he wrestles with this newfound power, it leads him down a path of unchecked paranoia and desperate actions—some of which intentionally hurt those that found belief in him.
The supporting cast, including Ross (Alex Hassell), whose character alliances change as the wind blows – is a human depiction of the tide rising against the Macbeths’. Also, Banquo (Bertie Carvel) is a loyal friend to Lord Macbeth and is present when given the prophecy. Slowly, he realizes forces are working against him. Corey Hawkins has a spirited portrayal of Macduff, a man on a quest for vengeance to strike down Lord Macbeth. At Macbeth‘s root is Coen, who wrote this adaptation. The director highlights the uncouth nature of ascending to the throne. In the end, nobody wins. Some go mad; others lose their lives.
Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth adaptation is an unrelenting look at a powerful couple stalked by legacy and the pain they leave in their wake. Eventually, the skeletons you leave will pile up into a guilt-ridden prison. These characters bathe in the shadows and bask in large structured environments that feed upon their inner desires. A story we all know gets to live in a meaningful update.
Photo Credit: A24/Alison Rosa