I’m a massive Coen Brothers fan, and I was looking forward to their latest offering. Their ability to switch between dark comedy and just plain dark is unparalleled. It’s amazing to me that Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men are made by the same people. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was great. As a basic white Millennial male, I love The Big Lebowski.
The thing is, this doesn’t feel like a Coen Brothers movie. Maybe that’s because only one of them directed it. It doesn’t even feel like a commercial movie. It almost feels like a master’s thesis. An exercise, rather than a completed piece.
The Tragedy of MacBeth is shot in stark black and white. The sets are super-minimalist, shrouded in smoke and clouds. Crows flap and caw. MacBeth’s castle is a brutalist prison, everything smooth concrete, stark and sterile and cold. Characters trudge across grey sand, palaver below a twisted black tree or among stone ruins. It all makes for an ominous, dreamlike visual.
I don’t understand Shakespearian dialogue. I can pick up things here and there, but it mostly sounds like foreign language. I can pick out famous lines (milk of human kindness, something wicked this way comes, etc.). But when a character gets going on a monologue, they might as well be speaking Chinese.
Thus, I can’t pretend I enjoyed this movie the way I enjoy most movies. I found the visuals engaging, and the performances, as well. It was very interesting to have communication stripped down to body language and facial expression and tone of voice rather than words.
Watching an actor do Shakespeare is a real treat because it’s like watching a famous singer do difficult scales or a pro athlete run drills — pure technical demonstration of the craft.
Washington is great (I think), McDormand is better (I think — I actually understood her a lot of the time), and the rest of cast is good— Gleeson, Hawkins, Melling (how weird that the most active Harry Potter alum other than Harry are Dudley Dursley and Cedric Diggory). Stephen Root has a brief memorable role (I almost didn’t recognize him). Katheryn Hunter is the movie’s highlight as the witches, uttering the play’s most famous lines. I will remember Alex Hassell, who I’d never seen before.
From my pedestrian view, this seems like a worthy adaptation.