The Tragedy of Macbeth | Review | New York Film Festival 2021

 Feeling like it came right from the fingertips of Bergman, Joel Coen's expressionistic The Tragedy of Macbeth is a marvel. "I didn't want to hide the play," and in seven short words, Coen expresses what's so special about his film. Macbeth exists in a symbolic space between both mediums of film and theatre. The cast has the most magnificent wonderland to play inside of, designed by Stefan Dechant, who has brought to life something entirely unseen in any previous Shakespeare adaptation. It honours the politics the tragedy was written for and speaks new life into the world we live in now. 

"Black and white instantly abstracts it," says Coen of his choice of aesthetic, which could not be more true of the trickery that builds up inside the frame. Gorgeous silhouettes and swooping arches become characters, obscuring the truth the same way the protagonist does, climaxing in famous speeches that feel fresh on the tongue of McDormand. 

The film's main pull on the surface is its cast, with a wealth of veteran performers starting with Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand at the helm navigating the ship with electric chemistry. Beyond them, casting director Ellen Chenoweth forms a showstopping company, including a Harry Potter reunion through Brendan Gleeson and Harry Melling, on top of adding Corey Hawkins, Bertie Carvel, Moses Ingram and Alex Hassell. There's no thirst for fantastic performances, for every frame is filled with them, only made richer by Dechant's design. 

As is the same in Shakespeare's Globe, the audience feels part of the action. It's as if we stand on the stage with the players as they envelop us in the tale of greed and deceit. The 105-minute runtime flies by, yet there's burning to stay longer with Washington and McDormand in their unparalleled performances. As in any Shakespeare script, the rhythm aids the ephemeral feeling of Macbeth's time in power. 

Although this film was seemingly set for success with its star power, it earns every inch of that from a committed crew who honoured the source while endeavouring to bring something new. Though we are not starved of Shakespeare, for his influence is so vast that it's present even subconsciously in many mediums, Coen and company have found the fresh breath. There'll be professors holding this in high regard in future years. The next generation of filmmakers will be learning from this piece without a doubt. 

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