Cinematic Considerations – The Tragedy of Macbeth

By Nathan H. Box, MNPL

Recommendation: 4/5 SHOWTIME 

Plot: “A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power.”

Review: As a movie critic, I see it as my responsibility to judge the thesis behind any film I watch with an open mind. Before the title stretches across the screen, I center myself and begin the journey, intending to understand the reason behind a film. When I observe the acting, writing, production, cinematography, and direction as a single story, I see it as my responsibility to judge whether the thesis of the film is met or missed. I go to the movies to experience marvellous stories that transplant me elsewhere. Occasionally, I am treated to an experience with the power to change me and/or an artistic expression so strong it possesses the potential to influence all future filmmaking endeavors. Simply put, I love a great story and adore the act of understanding a film’s reason for being.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth has graced our screens in various forms some 50 times. In fact, Michael Fassbender took a stab (pun intended) at the Scottish king in 2015. Why revisit a story they forced us all to read in high school? Why tell this story again? And how can it be told in a new and refreshing way?

This was the challenge before screenwriter and director Joel Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit) of Coen brothers’ fame. It is this challenge that serves as its reason for being in my mind. To achieve it, bold choices were required. From beginning to end, the story is told in black and white. This choice creates a brooding, ominous, perilous, and, yes, beautiful frame for our story. Next, the cinematography and staging choices for this film are minimalistic. The actors are given space to create without distraction and the power of Shakespeare’s words are invited to fill each cavernous space. Finally, Coen cast seasoned actors Denzel Washington (Training Day, Fences) as Macbeth and Frances McDormand (Nomadland, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Lady Macbeth. Choosing elder actors in Hollywood is also a choice. It makes the decisions before each character more pronounced, nuanced, and as if the slow beat of time is consistently ringing in the background.

With the choices made and the stage set, the story of Macbeth’s descent into madness may shine in new and enthralling ways. Washington is fully consumed by the role, leaving an indelible mark on a centuries-old character. As for McDormand, her lustful pursuit of power moves Macbeth toward violence. Together, they are overtaken with distrust and blame. Once the throne is conquered, this story devolves into a chaotic scramble to keep the crown with fear and war serving as weapons.

2022 is still a young year. There are countless stories waiting to unfold at the theaters in the remaining months, but as we begin awards seasons and heighten our judgment of the films worth consideration for Hollywood’s top prizes, I believe this film is worthy of the conversation. It is boldly directed, brilliantly acted, and delivers on its promise. It told the story of Macbeth powerfully, artfully, and in an unforgettable fashion. In my estimation, it achieved its thesis.

Be good to each other,


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