This film was previously reviewed in September 2021 as part of our New York Film Festival coverage.

The Tragedy of Macbeth marks Joel Coen’s dual venture into a metatextual adaptation of William Shakespeare’s prescient epic and his unprecedented directorial experimentation independent of his brother Ethan. The result is a boutique noir that gets back to the quintessential basics of filmmaking and humanity – a rare feat perfectly executed by none other than the virtuoso himself. Powered by the magnetic force of screen and stage legends, Coen and veteran cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel’s collective vision conjures up a twilight zone between cinema and theatre, light and shadow.

The film chronicles the Scottish general Macbeth (Denzel Washington)’s self-fulfilling prophecy of coup and coronation – launched by a shape-shifting, self-replicating witch (Kathryn Hunter), instigated by his calculating, remorseless wife Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand), and concluded by revenges and repercussions. From the outset, Hunter’s otherworldly command of body horror grips us in a chokehold and sweeps in and out of the film’s grayscale fuzz and haze – stirring up the ensuing storm of bloodbaths and psychological warfare.

Mastering the chiaroscuro of hollow landscapes and illusive liminal spaces, Coen takes a minimalistic, expressionistic approach to subvert this age-old tragedy of fatalism with sensationalistic audiovisuals that exert on steadicam shots. Together, he and Delbonnel construct atemporal, geometric mise-en-scènes where the medieval architectural lines cage in the characters’ wrath and guilt. The stark contrast of hard lighting accentuates the painstaking, explosive performances of Washington and McDormand, who rival and complement each other in their scenes together whilst holding their own in their versatile deliveries of centrepiece monologues.

With his singular manoeuvres of dark humours and romanticist aesthetics, Coen proves that a fundamental tragedy can be viscerally enjoyable. Macbeth is the most fitting source material for him to transform into a timely political satire, which cautions us against moral depravity and power hunger in an increasingly militant world.



CAST: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Kathryn Hunter, Harry Melling, Corey Hawkins


WRITERS: Joel Coen, William Shakespeare

SYNOPSIS: A trio of witches convinces a general that he will become the King of Scotland. And he is encouraged by his ambitious wife to fulfil this prophecy.