The Tragedy of Macbeth

William Shakespeare is arguably one of the greatest English writers and dramatists ever. The story of Macbeth is only one of many tales that inspired countless plays, TV shows, and movies. All the way back from silent films and Orson Welles’ 1948’s adaptation to the latest Justin Kurzel’s 2015’s attempt at recreating the famous tragedy, without forgetting the numerous TV series, this Shakespearean story has been told time and time again. Some retellings were more successful than others, of course. This time, in an uncommon solo directorial work, Joel Coen (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) takes the wheel in what the filmmaker confesses to being a personal project.

I’m a firm believer that there should be more black-and-white movies. I didn’t have the chance to see this film in a theater, but I watched it at home in the best possible conditions. From the dark room to the quiet environment, my “big screen” of 55” never looked so beautifully crisp. For some reason, it only offers this level of visual quality with B&W movies – The Lighthouse is another excellent example. This leads me to the biggest compliment for this adaptation: The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the purest definitions of a “technical masterpiece”.

Every single audiovisual element completely transforms this A24 / Apple TV+ flick into a truly cinematic viewing. Bruno Delbonnel’s (Darkest Hour) cinematography looks so astonishingly stunning that I dare write it makes this film one of the prettiest movies of the century. It crosses that barrier that often leaves “regular moviegoers” out of the enjoyment spectrum to a point where literally anyone can/will feel captivated and even mesmerized by the impressive visual quality. Some specific imagery warrants an internal yet loud “how the hell did they make this shot look so good?!”

 

The Tragedy of Macbeth
© A24 / Apple TV+

Carter Burwell’s (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) haunting score elevates the tension emanating from each dialogue, contributing to an overall immersive atmosphere. However, it’s actually the sound department that deserves the ultimate praise. Even at home with simple TV speakers, the sound design, mixing, and all other related components join together to create palpable feelings. Characters taking heavy steps, doors creaking, trees and leaves blowing against the windows… writing this only makes me jealous of everyone who had the lucky opportunity to watch this film in a proper theater. Production, costume, and set design are all award-worthy, just like every other technical element.

Additionally, The Tragedy of Macbeth also holds phenomenal performances from everyone involved, but expectedly Denzel Washington (The Little Things) and Frances McDormand (The French Dispatch) stand out. It wouldn’t be surprising if the actress got yet another Oscar nomination, but in all fairness, Washington proves to be on a whole different level in this movie. Both interpret Shakespearean dialogue as if they were born during the respective time, seamlessly handling elongated monologues filled with complex vocabulary and tricky sentence formation. If the gorgeous images don’t grab your attention, then these two performances surely will.

However, despite Joel Coen’s robust and unique direction, different from what the viewers are used to seeing from the Coen Brothers, this version of Macbeth’s story doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of Shakespearean adaptations, but I hoped for something more than just another straight-up retelling of the well-known narrative. The themes surrounding political ambition, power-hungry mentalities, and its physical-psychological consequences have been intensely studied, so I really don’t have much more to add to the infinite essays about this story.

The Tragedy of Macbeth
© A24 / Apple TV+

The Tragedy of Macbeth is a mesmerizing technical masterpiece that could have benefited from a distinct take on the well-known Shakespearean tale. Denzel Washington demonstrates his insane talent, as does Frances McDormand, but the former clearly stands out in a more energetic, captivating performance, powering through intricate, long monologues, which may very well result in yet another successful awards season. Joel Coen offers his bold direction to an unsurprising, too familiar narrative, but the rest of the technical crew transforms a streaming flick into an authentic cinematic experience. With some of the most exquisite cinematography of the century, Bruno Delbonnel staggeringly elevates every other filmmaking component (sound, costumes, sets, production design), making this a must-watch movie, whether at home or, better yet, at the theater.

The Tragedy Of Macbeth is available now.

By Manuel São Bento

A 28-year-old critic with a tremendous passion for film, television, and the art of filmmaking. An unbiased perspective from someone who stopped watching trailers since 2016. Member of GFCA, IFSC, and OFTA. Approved on Banana Meter. Social media: @msbreviews.