Film Review: The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

Emerging from battle victorious, the Scottish generals Macbeth and Banquo travel home as crows circle high overhead, barely visible through the heavy fog that seeps through the land. Reaching a small pond in the road, the men are met by a dark force that not only has plenty to tell them about their destinies, but will play a crucial and sinister role in them. 

The classic Shakespeare play is given new blood from director Joel Coen, casting Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand respectively as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Already competing with several other adaptations, this version proves its worthiness with a remarkable blurring-of-the-line between cinema and theater. Almost everything stylistically in this film, from the aspect ratio and the black/white colour palette to the condensed sets and ominously-selective lighting, evokes the true feeling of a live theater setting about as much as a film can. 

Additionally, the performances have just the right amount of bravado to give the feeling of a larger-than-life theater performance while also maintaining enough believability to work as a movie. From Washington’s portrayal of the titular tragic-hero not dissimilar to a pouty child to McDormand’s transition of almost comically-sinister plotter to sleepwalking wreck, the performances here are perhaps some of the best portrayals of these characters put to screen. 

But while both of these performances are memorable, the true star of this film is Kathryn Hunter and her portrayal of all three witches. Everything about the way Hunter brings these villainous and iconic characters to the screen, from her unnerving physical contortions to her dry, almost Gollum-like voice is a true spectacle, to say the least. She may not get as much screen-time or as many lines as the leads, but she ate this role up. Every second she was on screen I was completely and utterly transfixed. Just… wow. 

Something else I should note is in relation to the sound design. Throughout the film, the sound of drops, both water and blood, is mixed with heavier, bone-shaking rumbles. The presence of those ‘drip’/’thud’ hybrids loom very heavily over Washington’s Macbeth and the film in general, creating an uneasy and tension-filled atmosphere. In some ways, the noises almost feel like their own distinct character — pretty creative stuff. 

Joel Coen’s film adaptation of Macbeth is a truly remarkable feat, bringing an often-adapted story a cinematically unique and endlessly memorable interpretation. If you like Shakespeare, you MUST watch this. If you’re yet to dip your toes into his work, this could be the perfect place to start.

Overall rating: 9/10

Published by Jeremy Bader

Aspiring writer, film and music lover, drummer.

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