The Tragedy of Macbeth: A Subtle, Yet Dazzling Production: New York Film Festival Review

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William Shakespeare and Joel Coen. An unlikely pair because of the age difference, both are considered masters of their craft during their respective times.

Shakespeare's genius pairs well with Coen's in The Tragedy of Macbeth, and the stars elevate Coen's vision to something no less than magical.

Large sets, elegant costumes, and stunning music combine to make a unique adaptation.

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth The Tragedy of Macbeth

Sadly, things weren't all wonderful and perfect. So before I get into the meat of the good, I need to mention the bad.

The editing did not impress. From repeated tacky transitions to two strange title cards, the editing choices presented left me confused.

The sets were big, but sometimes bigger doesn't mean better. The space felt too empty and baron, especially inside the castle.

Despite these few downfalls, the film's highs outweigh the lows entirely.

First and foremost: the performances.

Frances McDormand (Lady Macbeth) and Denzel Washington (Macbeth) are electrifying actors on their own, and together they provided extraordinary performances.

Shakespeare is no easy feat (no matter the medium), and they handled the intensity of these characters with equally intense passion.

Aside from these two incredible leads, the entire cast gave jaw-dropping performances.

Alex Hassell performed the role of the messenger, Ross, so wonderfully that he significantly stood out in the main cast.

The Tragedy of Macbeth Poster

Hassell's character isn't often a character you hear about as a standout in the play, but he (and Coen) made his character necessary without changing much about him.

Included in the murdering of Banquo, Ross became important in Coen's script, and it elevated for the better.

Rounding out the main cast (and providing great performances) are Harry Melling as Malcolm, Brendan Gleeson as Duncan, Ralph Ineson as the Captain, and Corey Hawkings as Macduff.

There were two notable standouts for me within the side cast: Moses Ingram (recent Emmy Nominee for The Queen's Gambit) and Kathryn Hunter.

The Three Witches The Tragedy of Macbeth

Ingram put on a brilliant performance as Lady Macduff, and even though she had about less than ten minutes of screentime, she completely knocked it out of the park.

Ingram managed to get through powerful emotions of familial love and betrayal during her short time on screen, and (just like in The Queen's Gambit), I was left wanting more of her.

Kathryn Hunter may have had the most challenging (and interesting) role: The Witches.

Her body-bending skills, low voice, and creepy facial expressions brought the witches to life in a wonderfully terrifying way. She seriously left a lasting impression.

The effects and editing whenever the witches are on-screen impresses.

Lord Macbeth The Tragedy of Macbeth

"Double, Double Toil and Trouble," one of the most famous lines in Shakespearean history, made for one of the best scenes in the entire movie, utilizing unique effects and camera angles.

Hunter delivered her performance with an extreme finesse that only an Oliver Award-winning actress could do (which, she is, she won in 1991).

Her depiction of the three witches has already gotten her lots of critical-acclaim, and rightfully so.

Her masterful portrayal echoes Coen's brilliancy in directing and screenwriting.

Without Coen's vision, Hunter would have never gotten to spit out a finger, and for that, I thank him.

Lady Macbeth The Tragedy of Macbeth

Joel Coen managed to take one of the most famous Shakespeare plays and turn it into something new (while still feeling grounded in the original's work).

While not modern by any means, the production felt very refreshing.

Adaptations are pretty standard as of late, and while some may tire of the constant recycling of work, this adaptation feels entirely original due to Coen.

His directing always impresses, and The Tragedy of Macbeth is no different. The meticulous orchestration of each scene shined through Coen's directing.

Malcolm and Duncan, The Tragedy of Macbeth

Of course, the tale of Macbeth is well known and traditionally produced on-stage quite often.

Coen managed to blend the theatrics of seeing a live production with high-quality film production.

The film utilizes a current theme with filmmakers (Justice League, The Lighthouse) presenting in Black and White.

Having everything be in black and white makes Macbeth's path to insanity even more surreal to watch.

Even with the large open rooms, the scenes feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable (in a good way). The unsettling nature of Macbeth represents itself nicely through the limited color.

Denzel Macbeth The Tragedy of Macbeth

I'd be remiss not to talk of the final scene, the beheading of Macbeth.

The fight scene between him and Macduff was quite well-choreographed, and the quality never faltered through the last shot. The crown goes flying, as does Macbeth's head.

Coen gets ross to carry the head and crown to the new King of Scotland, instead of Macduff, in an exciting change. This change made sense because of the logistics of having Macduff get down from the high bridge, but it felt a bit out of place.

Another exciting change involving Ross: his loyalty lies solely to the bloodline.

I won't go into detail, but in a new scene, the implication that he murdered a central character left me in shock because of how shocking and incredibly portrayed.

Lady Macbeth Walking The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth will rightfully go down as one of the top Shakespearean adaptations, despite its minor production flaws.

The 59th New York Film Festival is just getting started, running through October 10th.

The Tragedy of Macbeth heads to theatres on December 25th, 2021, and Apple TV+ on January 14th, 2022.


Editor Rating: 4.65 / 5.0
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Michael Stack is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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