The Tragedy of Macbeth, a Solo Joel Coen Story
The Tragedy of Macbeth (2022)
Directed by Joel Coen
Starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand & Alex Hassell
I have never been a fan of “the Bard.”
Did he influence literature and subsequently cinema? Of course. Does my brain beg for subtitles whenever his words are spoken on screen? Absolutely. Did I play Puck in my high school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Maybe…
Maybe Joel Coen’s version of Macbeth would move me from reverence to enjoyment when it comes to Shakespeare’s work? Especially since it was released by A24, the studio that seemingly can do no wrong?
Visually, The Tragedy of Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare adaptation. The stark black and whites, framed in “Academy ratio,” (which is much squarer than the standard 1.85:1), added to the tension in the classic story as the walls gradually close in on the viewer… just like they do for the story’s main character. Adding to the tension are the limited set pieces and lack of extensive scenery. It almost feels like cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel was channeling his inner MC Escher.
Did I like The Tragedy of Macbeth? Yes. Did I love it? No. For me, the story was irrelevant as the opening scene’s stunning visuals set the tone. My eyes were so pleased. What did I care about characters speaking in a way I didn’t really understand? It was interesting to see Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand put gusto into their lines, but by the time the plot was clear, and my understanding of the vernacular was clear enough to follow along, I didn’t care. I just saw the lady from Fargo (1996) and the guy from Training Day (2001) having fun and showing off on an interesting set. The characters didn’t matter at that point. Would they if I was a Shakespeare aficionado? Maybe. But clearly, I am not.
The rest of the cast is probably great, but I can’t say so for sure. Because like I said, I really couldn’t understand the lines of dialogue until at least a third of the way through the film. Even then, they are delivered with such pizzaz and speedy emphasis that it all felt a bit alien.
I have come to understand that art doesn’t exist solely to be enjoyed. Sometimes it’s just there to be revered and cherished. Maybe that’s the category Joel Coen’s latest film falls into, but I would much rather him team back up with his brother and make another great film for me to enjoy like No Country for Old Men (2007), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) or even one of my least favorite of their films, The Big Lebowski (1998).
If Fargo and Training Day are both A’s then The Tragedy of Macbeth is a C.