Review: Joel Coen's 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' is an Impeccably Stylish Act of Mimicry

Review: Joel Coen’s ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ is an Impeccably Stylish Act of Mimicry

What if there was a film version of William Shakespeares Macbeth that looked like if F. W. Murnaus Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Carl Theodor Dreyers The Passion of Joan of Arc had a baby?
Visually distinct amongst its kin, The Tragedy of Macbeth holds its own versus other cinematic versions of the Scottish play, but its not transforming the wheel, either. If a movie Macbeth perfectly styled after two greats of the silent period, only with sound, strikes you as a fantastic time, you will like this.
While the combined star power of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is the obvious draw here– and they are living legends for excellent reason– the real stars of this movie, in all its austerity, is the below-the-line production team. Every frame of The Tragedy of Macbeth is a masterpiece. There is not even a hair on a head or a leaf on a tree that does not feel exactly curated. In this method, the film strikes an intriguing balance between gore and sterility– the violence here is graphic and harsh, but tidy. Blood drips and swimming pools on the floor on occasion when it fits the aesthetic appeals, however elsewhere a blade just stabbed into a torso will pull away pristine.
Mary Zophres outfits are masterpieces of texture that feel specifically patterned and yet mesmerizingly natural, and not even the smallest information discovers as left to opportunity. As Lord Banquo, Bertie Carvels ensemble is not simply perfectly collaborated but his eyebrows modified to bushy, scraggly caterpillars that exactly match the fur lining of his cloak.
Stefan Dechants production design perfectly recreates the strange geometries of German Expressionism to a degree that it can seem like entering a time machine. Both beautiful and sporadic, the sets are graphically appealing and just dressed with exactly what is needed– there are no extra props or mess to mention. Any chair that is seen will be beinged in; any cup will be drunk from or tossed throughout the room.
That being stated, while the department heads do seem like the genuine stars here, of the cast, one supporting gamer does steal the program– accoladed Shakespearian phase starlet Kathryn Hunter, who provides a mesmerizingly eerie efficiency as the Three Witches. McDormand and Washington are top-of-their generation skills, but Hunter shows an amazing, nearly preternatural physicality– practically Lon Cheney-esque– that feels especially in the house in the 1920s aesthetic appeals of all of it. Sometimes its like viewing Gollum without movement capture.
The Murnau of all of it in some cases works a little better than the Dreyer. Coen makes a pointed stance in how he deals with monologuing– that is, adhering to stark high-contrast close-ups of the stars deals with all the way through (no pivot-to-voice-over) in a method that feels lifted straight from The Passion of Joan of Arc. The concern is that in silent movie, these shots tend to work as a sort of shorthand. The electronic camera often doesnt actually linger long enough for someone offering a speech to provide the speech, the shot typically simply develops who is speaking and the way in which they are speaking before the film cuts to the explanatory intertitle. When the very same method is taken in a sound film that simply so happens to have some really long monologues, certain drawbacks to the method emerged, specifically when it comes to a few of the drier, more expositional monologues earlier in the story.
Coen holds company on maintaining this approach anyway, however one unfortunate quality of the movie that seems like a possible byproduct of this technique is the degree to which a great deal of the monologues feel rather hurried: No stops briefly for suspense or thought or just to let an audience procedure whats been said; just bulldozed directly through. Sometimes, particularly with Denzel, it nearly borderlines mumblecore, particularly earlier on when Macbeth is still more or less sane. As soon as he begins unraveling, he takes more time with the lines and it becomes as big and engaging of an efficiency as one would hope. While some of the Bards renowned wordplay lands, an excellent bit gets lost in the rush– thinking about the crux of Shakespeares genius is his wordsmithing, this feels like a particular loss.
The technical execution is spectacular, however ultimately the thematic underpinnings feel somewhat less robust. The Tragedy of Macbeth is gorgeous to take a look at but eventually does not include all excessive to consider that is not supplied by that critical Shakespeare text. There does not seem to be a layered thesis behind the “why” of the approach even a “why not, it looks cool.” It does not discover like it is echoing the past to state anything in specific beyond checking to see if that past artistry can be recaptured, and undoubtedly it can. A simple question with a simple response.
Theres absolutely nothing incorrect with that, per se, its just likewise not the sort of movie that tends to remain on the mind for all too long– and is perhaps a smidge less than one expects at this moment from somebody as renowned in his own right as Joel Coen. It feels, rather bluntly, maybe most similar to The Artist– a well-crafted novelty task that recapitulates the highlights of a bygone age however forgets to develop any highly identifying features of its own. For fans of Shakespeare, German expressionism, McDormand, or Denzel, its worth a viewing, but five years from now, it feels a safe bet that the bulk of this movies audiences will be the myriad students who are certainly going to end up enjoying this for class.
For those entering into this film questioning who Joel Coen is as a filmmaker without Ethan by his side, the answer is that this concern remains once the credits roll, since The Tragedy of Macbeth is, more than anything, an amazing act of mimicry– a remarkable piece of workmanship, but less than one would expect from a filmmaker of Coens distinction.
The Tragedy of Macbeth was reviewed out of 2021s New York Film Festival. The movie will receive a limited theatrical release on December 25, 2021, and will begin streaming on Apple TV+ on January 14, 2022.
Ciara is one of Pajibas movie critics. You can follow her on Twitter.

Image sources (in order of publishing): Apple, A24

This content was originally published here.

What if there was a film version of William Shakespeares Macbeth that looked like if F. W. Murnaus Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans and Carl Theodor Dreyers The Passion of Joan of Arc had a baby?
While the combined star power of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is the apparent draw here– and they are living legends for excellent factor– the real stars of this film, in all its austerity, is the below-the-line production group. Coen holds company on maintaining this technique anyhow, but one regrettable quality of the film that feels like a possible by-product of this method is the extent to which a lot of the monologues feel rather hurried: No stops briefly for suspense or idea or simply to let a viewer procedure whats been stated; simply bulldozed directly through. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that, per se, its just also not the sort of film that tends to remain on the mind for all too long– and is possibly a smidge less than one anticipates at this point from someone as renowned in his own right as Joel Coen. For fans of Shakespeare, German expressionism, McDormand, or Denzel, its worth a watching, but 5 years from now, it feels a safe bet that the bulk of this films viewers will be the myriad trainees who are definitely going to end up seeing this for class.


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