“The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Reviewed: Joel Coen’s Sanitized Shakespeare

Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is the kind of film that the Coen brothers’ hero, Preston Sturges, parodied eighty years ago in his blockbuster “Sullivan’s Travels,” which is about a famous comedian who gets nervous after the connection to draw his attention to a super-serious social drama. However, “Macbeth” is more than just a serious drama. It’s a ready-made show of inspirational cast, and The Coen cast is filled with some of the best cast. It is a particular form of cinematic agony when great performers get stuck in a misguided production, because the intrinsic pleasure of seeing them is overshadowed by a sense of lost, by art that is ignored by directing stubbornness or vanity. Denzel Washington, as Macbeth, and Frances McDormand, as Lady Macbeth, fit their performances with Shakespeare’s cinematic sparse width, reducing grandiosity to rudeness and poetry to ornament. The overall effect is the pursuit of an unfulfilled sublime style – and this undermines the play’s massive import.

The film was shot in black and white because, as you know, colors were not yet invented in Shakespeare’s time. There’s been a revival in the black and white film industry this year, as in Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” and much of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”, where the abridged format puts the characters’ diverse speech in anthropomorphic clarity. In “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Quinn also emphasizes language with his stark stand-up sets and high-contrast artificial lighting. However, his focus on language is paradoxical, because his skilful shorthand for the play ends up being on the cutting edge and bypassing Shakespeare’s rhetorical fancy. Quinn transforms the play’s poetry into dialogue spoken by actors who seem stranded in the task of merely delivering their lines. Quinn set out to normalize Shakespeare’s language, but ended up getting too far. His actors speak in conversational voices, in disdain for theatrical, also ignoring subtle expressions. Quinn portrays her as human pillars frozen in place, line spreaders staring straight ahead as he frames her in the front fascination of a network TV show.

Groups are given more centralization and responsibility than the actors. The film’s decor – with its sharp lines, sharp edges, plain walls, high rings, and bright vistas – refers to the architecture imagined by De Chirico, and Coen uses its portals to craft German Expressionist effects of shadow and light. More attention and forethought seems to have been directed into creating thin lines of window light rather than placing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s gestures and gestures in the same frame. No current passes between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They occupy the same room and the same space but not the same movie. McDormand was not directed to display a sufficiently ruthless temper; Her performance lacks drive, urgency, anger, and madness. This Lady Macbeth is never as strong as she was when she commands her subordinates, and her crazy scenes come as an actor’s practice. Washington appears to be watering down its performance to suit. His quiet, wise authority reigns in the movie from start to finish, but he’s largely stuck in place as rigidly as the other actors. Unfazed by the conflict, unperturbed by the sisters’ strange prophecy, Ponhomie’s combative Macbeth appears unaffected by Lady Macbeth’s spiderlike schemes. Washington is at his best when casual, when the sheer regular crosses the line, as in his seemingly spontaneous, early gesture, Banquo clapping his shoulder.

Not just naked groups. Likewise, the intellectual framework within which the film is presented is immaterial. Quinn reimagines “Macbeth” as a stereotypical independent relationship drama, rather than a symphony of sounds or a chamberwork for contrapuntal dialectics. Fortunately, among the supporting cast, there are a few juicy exceptions: Macduff (Corey Hawkins), Lady Macduff (Musa Ingram), and their son (Ethan Hutchison) reach for a high degree of expressiveness, their conversational tones with passion. (Also, Catherine Hunter delivers a ferocious performance as the three subdued witches though.) The highlights of the film are those that closely resemble traditional action sequences, but have pungent touches of staging, such as when Macbeth duels with Seward. ( Richard Short) before killing him with an impromptu gesture. The climactic confrontation between Macbeth and Macduff, which takes place not on the battlefield but on a high and narrow lane, oozes a mixture of dramatic emotion and combative precision. It unravels, despite the eye-rolling blossom of vulgarity, when Macduff cuts off Macbeth’s head and the dying king’s crown flies through the air in slow motion.

This is only one, and not the last, in a series of gargantuan influences that run throughout the film – including Macbeth as he turns away from three crows; Lady Macbeth burns her husband’s letter and watches the wind carry it high from the window to the stars; Macbeth mistaken the dagger-like doorknob to be a real handle; And most merryly, Macbeth mad, as he watched the wood advance toward Dunsinan, as the gusts of wind opened the tall glass doors of his castle and showered him with a flood of leaves. These attractive symbolic tricks replace a coordinated and unified directive visualization. Coen doesn’t use silences, looks, and pauses usefully. He does not conjure up a world crowded with battles and intrigue. His “Macbeth” shakes Shakespeare while softening the rhetoric and trimming classic references so viewers are not pushed to the margins. It is an elegant, clean medieval drama, a sterile “Macbeth” in which the absence of ornament and entanglement, and a sharp, rational emphasis on clear action, is a sign of rigorous solemnity. However, Quinn’s effort for seriousness and longing for significance cuts through the other side with a howl of unintentional comedy.


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