To construct a modern adaptation of an iconic Shakespeare play is a colossal task. It is also exceedingly difficult to do so without modernizing the semantics of the script because it’s obviously more difficult for viewers to be convinced by actors who are attempting to capture the essence of an archaic vernacular, particularly when the actors are so universally acclaimed and respected that you’re used to them gliding through the entire screenplay (and, indeed, the script) with ease, with a sense of unadulterated effortlessness that is perhaps impossible to maintain when you are a 21st-century human speaking with a 16th-century tongue. But when your director is Joel Coen (No Country For Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, Fargo, True Grit, A Serious Man, The Big Lebowski, etc.) and your lead actors are Denzel Washington & Frances McDormand, that makes things a bit easier. The Tragedy of Macbeth—a canny and fascinating hybrid is an avant-garde film that simultaneously adopts facets of past Shakespeare film adaptations while still maintaining a novel foundation. The set design is eerie and postmodern. The black-and-white cinematography is sharp. And the scenes are raw and lucid. To me, this is the type of film you’d expect at an art museum where you go into a room, sit down on one of the two or three rows of benches, and see an avant-garde film that’s continuously played on a loop. Except this one is an hour and a half long, and the snobbier critics out there will call it perhaps the greatest film of 2021. But at the end of the day, several people left the film early when I saw it in theaters—it’s too artsy for the masses—and their experiences are valid. Alas, 2021 was a bad year for film. So, The Tragedy of Macbeth impressed me more than any other film this year in terms of technical excellence. It is dressed in iterations of past cinematic eras; the set and production design are phenomenal; and Denzel Washington captures the vanity and the murderous lust with which Macbeth tore through his world. Expect it to collect Oscars—but it is not for those who just seek to be entertained.
You are probably accustomed to my long and elaborate reviews, but—as you can see—I’ve been experimenting with formats for my blog. Let me know if you like the style of this review! I’ll keep devoting more words to the works that deserve them, but these one-paragraph posts may stick around for others.