A24’s film The Tragedy of Macbeth may be one strictly for Shakespeare completionists. This dull and nearly impenetrable iteration of the play is stylish but vapid. Without a doubt, the visuals are beautiful, and the actors embodying each character do so with effortless ease. If one knows the basic story of this so-called tragedy, there is little in the way of narrative surprises.
Game of Thrones fan? Well, bow down to the original tale of social-climbing. Macbeth (a fiery Denzel Washington) becomes brainwashed by the witchy Weird Sisters (Kathryn Hunter) to steal the crown as King of Scotland—by any means necessary. His wife, Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) is equally as ambitious.
Joel Coen writes and directs, so I assume he takes sole responsibility for what feels like a juvenile play dressed in fancy clothes. The shot compositions and atmosphere are swallowed by the monotony of it all. Narrating one’s every movement can only remain fresh for so many precious minutes before growing stale. Characters babble incessantly in dialogue difficult to decipher. No effort is made to update a single drop of this to be more accessible.
I did love at least one thing: the performance of Kathryn Hunter as the Weird Sisters (and the old man). She starts the film bent up and babbling on the beach, contorting and squawking like a bird. Hunter is properly creepy in the role. The infamous part where the sisters stand over a cauldron is masterful, as they peek down from the rafters. Hunter’s scratchy voice is solely responsible for the slightest bit of goodwill I can have towards the movie.
I read this play in high school, and was enthralled with the text mainly because of the weirdness and presence of witches. This whole angle is admittedly the coolest aspect of this new adaptation, and the only place I can award any points. The remaining performances in the movie are a miss, other than Denzel Washington, who feels like he is acting in a different movie than everyone else.
It is difficult to be engaged on any level when the film feels this distant. While I did not enjoy this movie at all, fans of the play, or Shakespeare, will certainly want to check it out. In a crowded theater, it played to little audience reaction. I expected too much from a Coen brother, and the A24 brand behind it.
The Tragedy of Macbeth lives up to the tragedy of its title—it leaps to limited screens on Saturday, December 25th, then comes to Apple TV+ on January 14th.