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‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ Is an Absolute Masterpiece

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24.09.2021

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been the source material for two big-screen masterpieces—Orson Welles’ 1948 Macbeth and Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 Throne of Blood—and to that eminent company one may now add Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, which takes as its inspiration not only Welles’ predecessor but the works of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau and Ingmar Bergman (to name just a few). The first feature produced by the director without his sibling and long-time partner Ethan, Coen’s film (premiering Sept. 24 as the Opening Night selection of the New York Film Festival before theaters and Apple TV ) is a misty, malevolent, marauding beast, shot with expressionistic flair in silvery black-and-white and in a virtually square 1.19:1 aspect ratio, and headlined by a titanic Denzel Washington as the ambitious Scottish general and Frances McDormand as his calculating wife. At once faithful to the Bard’s play and reminiscent of the auteur’s fatalistic noirs (notably, The Man Who Wasn’t There), it’s a triumph that breathes fiery new life into an enduring classic.

Teaming with accomplished cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) rather than long-time collaborator Roger Deakins, Coen dramatizes The Tragedy of Macbeth in borderline-abstract fashion, situating his famed tale in sets marked by brutalist architecture, endless fog, and shadows that are so sharp they seem capable of severing an artery. Alternating between towering vertical arrangements whenever focusing on his human protagonists, and circular, cockeyed and diagonal lines during those passages involving the three prophesying witches (Kathryn Hunter) who set........

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