Macbeth’s tragedy is probably the most experimental thing for streaming on Apple TV + so far.
At first glance, the film does not seem so strange. It is an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most acclaimed and most frequently performed plays, with the largest male starring role in the world. It was directed by a multiple Oscar winner, and stars his equally praised (and extremely popular and talented) wife.
So while Apple TV + is the most exciting feature film since Wolfwalkers it may not sound like an experiment, the devil is in the details. This adaptation is both expected and unexpected – in often exciting ways.
Macbeth’s tragedy Apple TV + arrives on January 14 after the cinema. Here’s why you should add it to your queue now for the following.
Macbeth’s tragedy review
For those who have never read the original drama, but missed the 2015 film with Michael Fassbender, a production by Patrick Stewart five years earlier, an adaptation by Orson Welles in 1948, Verdi’s opera, revisionist Nikolai Leskov Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (and countless adaptations), or any of the 100 or so other films and TV shows inspired by the classic story, here Macbeth in short.
After the final battle with the kingdoms of Norway and Ireland, King Duncan of Scotland (played by Brendan Gleeson here) feels pretty good about himself and his forces. One general in particular proves his bravery during this incursion: the king’s cousin, Macbeth (Denzel Washington).
As Macbeth and his friend Banquo (Bertie Carvel) travel from the last battlefield to the King’s tent, they happen through a witch (Kathryn Hunter) … or are they witches?
These women share something fateful with traveling veterans. Banquo will be the father of the line of kings, and Macbeth will soon be Thane of Cawdor, then king.
They mock the witch’s prediction. Thane (old word for governor) Cawdor is in excellent health and in the king’s favor, isn’t he? Wrong. It turned out that the king had just had him executed. So Macbeth’s title is falling … curious, isn’t it?
Macbeth shares this with her husband (Frances McDormand) and the gears in her brain begin to turn. Maybe the witches were right. Maybe it’s the right time for her and her husband to ascend the throne. As it happens, the king comes to Macbeth’s castle that night. It would certainly be a shame for something to happen to him while he slept drunk, believing he was surrounded by friends.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
There’s more, but those who know the story know the story, and those who don’t should should have a chance to have fun discovering the discovery that comes when they first watch Shakespeare’s production. If I have a personal favorite adaptation Macbeth this is because my favorite adaptations of any Shakespearean play by default are done by Orson Welles.
Welles was a theater student, director and actor, and then a film director. So when it came time to adapt Macbeth, Othello and more, there was simply no one to figure out how to better translate Shakespeare’s brilliantly disobedient text into film. He gave his actors space to be as big as each role required. And he put them in the most lavish baroque framing in which they provided the greatest dialogue ever written.
From Joel Coen and Orson Welles
Macbeth’s tragedy director Joel Coen, despite his incredible bona fide, is not Orson Welles. However, he knows that, so he decided that this film should not be a kind of glove for future imitators and at of his predecessors.
No, if nothing else, this is a film made in the most generous way possible. If you know the name Joel Coen, it’s because he and his brother Ethan have written and directed some of the best American films of the last 35 years. They made classic comedies (Raising Arizona, Hudsucker Proxy, hello, Caesar!), gloomy movies noir (Blood Simple, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There), and permanent existentialist texts (Inside Llewyn Davis, Serious Man) to name just a few things that stand out.
In the process, names have become famous – a rarity for filmmakers these days. But in the ’90s, when America was still in favor of its Woody Allen hangover, it was not uncommon for directors making dramas for adults of oblong shapes to become famous and famous.
… and Joel without Ethan
I believe the Coens never managed to make a bad movie. Even their legendary failures (Unbearable Cruelty, The Ladykillers) they are very pleasant to me. If I was afraid that Joel would make a movie without Ethan, it was because I doubted that Ethan was the one who was faster with the bon motto.
Joel was the one who was closer to the camera (he was not mentioned in vain as the only director in the first ten of their films). Ethan, the playwright at the time of the standstill, seemed to be the one who ensured that their films were as funny as they were ruthless.
Sure, you’d laugh, but they’d make you pay for it. Great of me; too few people seem to be interested in the ugly little nuances that lurk in the depths of our emotions, things we enjoy and are not comfortable with.
So without Ethan, what is Joel?
Return to film school
Well, perhaps predictably looking back, Joel didn’t make it an easy calculation because he chose one of the greatest works of English fiction for his departure vehicle. If you can’t get Ethan Cohen to write your screenplay, what about William Shakespeare? You have to admire that decision, if only as a joke.
It seems that Joel was looking for an excuse to make a film really focus on the images above all. After all, hire the world’s best cast to play Shakespeare, and it’s not that you have to worry too much about whether you’re going to steer them towards greatness. This frees your hair to lift your heels behind the camera.
Macbeth’s tragedy, and this is the only time I will use this as a compliment, I feel like the final project of a film school. It was as if Joel Coen had applied to UCLA, spent a semester taking into account the work of Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergei Eisenstein, Akira Kurosawa and others, and then did so in the last two weeks of classes.
IT IS exciting to see someone who has honed a style longer than my entire life turn strongly into something productively old-fashioned. It’s not that his work with Ethan wasn’t a classic either (Long live Caesar! is 15 classic Hollywood movies in one), but so few people regain the thrill of directing for the first time.
Much like Steven Spielberg (75) and his director of photography Janusz Kamiński (62), they made their youngest film so far this year in West Side Story, Joel Coen (67) and French cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (64) made a film with the energy of teenagers.
Old hat but brand new
Every corner inside It’s Macbeth’s tragedy carefully designed, every performance is free of expectations, every cut is as sharp as a sword swing, every beat and howl from the sound design is as loud as solo drums. This is a film that wants to show you the ways in which every second of its fast-paced duration exists.
Coen was obviously studying his Welles and Olivier, because his deliberately framed arched framing and beautiful minimal scenery (think of MC Escher with the puzzle element removed) exist in that purgatory “almost” and “completely new”.
The very idea of putting Denzel Washington in the lead exudes excitement and opportunity. Washington was once Shakespeare’s lead role during its heyday in the ’90s, but he became a guy like many of our best leading men. It is very instructive to see him examine the role of Macbeth, as much as to see what he will do, so much and what he will not.
An acting team worth highlighting
Of course, he’s hardly the only big player here. Special mention should be made of Kathryn Hunter as a witch, the most dedicated among the great actors of this game. She gives her whole body and the fullness of her voice to that role, creating what could be a definitive cinematic interpretation of this role. (She was greatly helped by Delbonnel unbelievable its representation in shadow and reflection. The film becomes a folk horror when the two of them work in harmony.)
Corey Hawkins makes the fearless Macduff, the royal foil. Ross who intrigues Alex Hassel is best remembered, and Stephen Root makes a meal from his one scene as Porter.
And then the great Brian Thompson (the deaf heel of shameful people like Cobra, Dragon’s heart i Mortal Kombat: Destruction) appears. Thompson has only three scenes, but he nails the film to the floor while on screen. His deep voice, his beautiful sad facial features… this is the main performer who has been hiding in supporting roles for too long. It is a joy to see him taken seriously.
A Macbeth for centuries
I could think of a lot worse versions of this show to see if you’ve ever seen it properly adapted. It was made with enough ease, enough experimental joy and enough seriousness to make a surprisingly fast film and a worthy entry into the canon of Shakespeare’s adaptations.
No one can be Orson Welles anymore. But Joel Coen decided it was an appropriate honor to try and have fun with Welles while creating your art.
The tragedy of MacBeth will be remembered as an important moment in Joel Cohen’s career as a director, when he tried to step out of the shadows of his work with his brother and create something purely his own, with the help of a number of incredible talents. Time will tell if it is his MacBeth will remain in the memory as well as some of the best joint works of the Coen brothers, but this is commendable, not to mention an unprecedented step in the life of Joel Coen as an artist.
Reviews have arrived. It is now in history.
Look Macbeth’s tragedy on Apple TV +
Macbeth’s tragedy premieres Jan. 14 on Apple TV +.
Look at: Apple TV +
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of a long series of video essays The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He wrote for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books i Nylon Magazine. He is the author Cinemaphagy: On the psychedelic classic form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.
Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.