REVIEW: Technically sound ‘Tragedy of Macbeth’ too inaccessible at times

I felt like I was drinking a 40 oz in the auditorium, because this film has a whole lot of Olde English.

Based on William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth,” “Tragedy” was written and directed by Joel Coen, with Denzel Washington playing the titular character. The film is a fairly straightforward retelling of the story, with Washington’s Lord Macbeth having a vision of ascending to the throne of Scotland.

That prophecy becomes fulfilled, and as the story goes, Macbeth’s reign turns out to be a difficult one. Soon after he takes the crown, he becomes paranoid and begins taking actions that only lead to more trouble.

One half of the Coen brothers can still make a damn fine film. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is a gorgeous work of art, with a lot of good things going for it.

One of those things, is of course, the story itself. Macbeth’s descent after placing the crown on his head is a classic story, and the concepts of betrayal, as well as one’s own selfish ambition leading to downfall is timeless.

The movie is also bolstered by its cast. One expects great things when the two leads have won multiple Oscars, and Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand deliver the goods.

Washington’s portrayal of Macbeth from stoic and strong warrior to a man who’s losing his grasp on his mind and kingdom is solid. As is McDormand as Lady Macbeth, a calculating, stoic woman.

Macbeth21Blog
Courtesy A24

Stealing the show in many scenes, though, is Kathryn Hunter, who plays the part of the witches who predict Macbeth’s future. Hunter makes the absolute most out of her limited screentime with a haunting performance.

“Tragedy of Macbeth” also looks and sounds fantastic. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is striking, a beautiful marriage between stage and cinema. The black and white look of the film is also integral, with the use of shadows setting the mood in each scene.

The sound design is just as good. Scenes are enhanced by many well placed sounds such as thunderous footsteps and the metallic clashing of swords.

However, with all of that said, “Tragedy of Macbeth” at many points feels inaccessible to one who’s not well-versed in Shakespeare. The film looks amazing, the themes at play are interesting and the technical detail is profound.

Yet the Shakespearean dialogue throughout the feature can lose a viewer. At times the back and forth between characters can end up sounding foreign, to the extent where it can be hard to keep track of things or be invested in what’s happening on a deeper level. As a result, a viewer can be left cold from the picture.

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” is a remarkably well made film. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to fully appreciate what’s great about the movie when it feels like there’s a degree of separation between what’s on screen and the audience. 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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