The Tragedy of Macbeth

By Joanna Langfield

The promise of the combo: Coen, Washington, McDormand and, oh yeah, Shakespeare, may be scintillating, the result is every bit as stunning as we’d hoped.

Joel Coen takes on one of the Bard’s most famous plays with a remarkable assuredness. Staging the story of the lethally ambitious Scottish lord and his wife in cold black and white is a statement on its own, collecting a wholly terrific group of players to tell the tale makes us see the vivid colors of this tragic seizure of power.

Don’t be one of those, “oh, it’s Shakespeare” deniers. Coen, who adapted the screenplay, keeps things as accessible as they are faithful to their origins. The action, and there is a lot of it, speeds along at a nifty pace, which is a happy relief for those of us plowing through all the seemingly insistent two and a half hour dramas out there. And the marked change, allowing for a concentration of both the camera and the audience, when it’s time for the more famous of the soliloquies, makes those speeches perhaps even more memorable.

But, of course, so do the actors. In supporting turns, look for marvelous work from Brendan Gleeson, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Sean Patrick Thomas and an outstanding Kathryn Hunter.  McDormand is very fine as the Lady Macbeth, but it’s Denzel Washington who astounds. It’s not a surprise he can handle the language as ably as he does, or to compel with a movie star’s intensity, but it’s downright thrilling to watch him, seemingly thrilled himself, with the opportunity to do so.