my review: the tragedy of macbeth

joel coen’s ‘the tragedy of macbeth’ is stunning. i will take a risk and say that i love how americans do shakespeare, at least on film. there is something earthy and unpretentious, something instinctually physical and meaty in how it’s performed and collated. the mise en scene, art direction, and cinematography usually fit like a glove. i am thinking of two films in particular: julie taymor’s ‘titus’ and now this new take on macbeth.

part horror film, part psychological thriller beset with political intrigue, macbeth straddles many dimensions. it’s a topsy turvy world where ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ coen creates this backdrop in black and white, with the distorted perspective, enclosed spaces and illusory beauty of an MC escher print.

the audio visual construction of the film is spot on. as isaac butler describes: ‘the circling crows. the fog out of which characters emerge. the ominous strings of carter burwell’s score. the dripping and knocking and pounding. these fragments remain, like the shards of a dream, one you’re happy to have awakened from but also long to return to, so you can discover what profundities lie within.’

the acting is top-notch throughout the film, but i want to write about denzel washington, one of the most effortless AND sophisticated, subtle AND volcanic actors in the world. he plays macbeth as an older, world-weary man such that lines like ‘it is a tale/ told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ signifying nothing’ make a lot of sense. his voice smooth and placid like velvet contrasts vividly with his descent into tyranny, madness, and then despair. a wonderfully dialed down, textured performance.

this is what i love about shakespeare in an american accent. there is an ease to it, a visceral understanding and physicality. and absolutely no need for telegraphing too much.

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