The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth ★★★★

Vivid recollections flash into my mind as I think back to the first time I had heard tell of The Tragedy of Macbeth. Scrolling through a list of A24's upcoming slate of films, three words sent my mechanical perusing to a fierce halt: "Macbeth" and "Joel Coen." Not so much did the presence of either of these terms on this list arouse surprise on their own (although yes, Joel Coen working under A24 made for immediate intrigue), but so did their joining together. Joel Coen adapting "Macbeth"...? Then came the detailed investigation, at which point I just assumed some wishful Coen Bros Tumblr blogger had conjured up a fake film and made a Wikipedia page for it. Joel Coen adapting "Macbeth?" With Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand? Under A24, with Apple TV+? In his first directorial outing—of a career 3 decades strong—sans brother Ethan? This simply couldn't be real...

Alas, in the waning days of 2021, Joel Coen's Shakespeare adaptation finally came to pass, and for all the intrigue surrounding this project, many were dumbfounded and royally disappointed to find a straightforward film adaptation of the play. Indeed, Joel's inaugural project away from his younger brother would drive some to believe that all the creativity and off-kilter ideas making the duo so well-renowned had departed with Ethan. Shakespeare's famously thick dialogue remains intact, and the modesty of the production often recalls the image of viewing a theatrical production on the stage. Some have wondered, then, why Coen even bothered with The Tragedy of Macbeth at all, if he wasn't going to take a quintessentially Coen spin on the project.

The answer to that question may very well be that Coen simply felt like adapting Shakespeare, or that his wife McDormand simply wanted to portray Lady Macbeth and coerced her husband into conceiving an entire film around that dream. In any event, while The Tragedy of Macbeth may not be a wild reimagining of the source material that exercises its director's famous idiosyncrasies, the candor with which this legendary narrative is delivered makes for a treat in the eyes of anyone already engaged with the play. Personally, most of Shakespeare's work eludes me, but "Macbeth" is admittedly his most accomplished tragedy in my eyes (at least immensely more so than "Romeo and Juliet," and clear of "Othello" by a significant margin). Besides, most of Shakespeare's work is, these days, used as a launching pad for thespian performances rather than for the novelty of how the narrative is twisted, anyway.

By that metric, it's incredibly refreshing to see an undeniably American adaptation of a Shakespeare play without any need to modernize the material into a New York-based musical or whatever the hell Baz Luhrmann made that one time. That's not to say that Americans really need anymore foreign material to attempt to colonize, but to see distinguished performers from this side of the pond like Washington and McDormand feistily take on the roles that I assume Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren probably played onstage at some point is a real treat. And that's to say nothing of the incredible, gobsmacking craftsmanship of The Tragedy of Macbeth which, like that of fellow 2021 A24 medieval tale The Green Knight, humbly wraps you in its painstaking detail, enough so to whisk you away to a cold, unforgiving land of deadly swordplay and even deadlier monologuing.

2021 Ranked.

A24 Ranked.
And now, a tale of my own Shakespearian tragedy. Seeing as how I don't live in New York or LA—one of the only two cities on Earth that distributors are convinced even exists—I had no reason to believe that The Tragedy of Macbeth would ever appear in a local theatre. Even though I've been lucky in the past to catch a Netflix movie here or there on the big screen in Montreal, this was Apple TV+, a streamer which, up to this point, had never played ball with local arthouse theatres. Lo and behold, showtimes for The Tragedy of Macbeth were actually set in a fairly accessible cinema starting Christmas Day! Then, in a horrible turn of events, every movie theatre in Quebec had been shut down indefinitely because of... well, that thing, just 5 days before Christmas. So... I was back to square one, waiting for the release of this film on streaming with the rest of the peasants. Oh fate, how cruel ye can be...

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