The screening room | Coen’s ‘Macbeth’ bracing is a staggering achievement | Film-television

At times sounding more like a horror movie than a retelling of William Shakespeare’s oft-told tragedy, Joel Coen’s “The Macbeth Tragedy” is a stunning take on the classic tale.

Propelled by strong performances from its veteran cast, the film is a triumph of production design, with Coen and his team creating a closed nightmare world of shadows and fog. This powerfully underscores the notion that not only the titular character, but everyone involved are hemmed in by forces beyond their control, and their actions and thoughts are not their own, but the result of being viewed as playthings by those who have greater powers.

There’s a sense of urgency to this production as Coen, in adapting the play, stripped the story to its barest bones. The titular character’s (Denzel Washington) death journey is more pronounced as this version focuses exclusively on the misguided machinations he and his wife (Frances McDormand) have set in motion to help fulfill a cryptic witch(s) prophecy. (s) whom he meets on his return. of the battle.

The second scene, in which the warrior and his brother in arms, Banquo (Bertie Carvel), meet the witch is magnificent moment. Dancer Kathryn Hunter twists her body and uses a spooky grater while delivering the dire predictions, while Coen uses visual trickery to make the actress look like one person and three at the same time. It’s a moment that serves as a warning, informing the viewer of Coen’s approach. He keeps us on our heels throughout, subtly and gradually creating a sense of dread that pervades the entire film.

Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel is the unsung hero. Borrowing heavily from German Expressionist films, he creates an enclosed environment that gradually closes in on the characters. Painting with light and shadow, as well as the use of long vertical and horizontal columns and pillars all alongthe sense of claustrophobia, also heightened by Coen’s use of the narrow, square aspect ratio, underscores the inescapable nature of Macbeth’s fate.

The two protagonists take on the daunting challenge of bringing a new approach to the well-known titular couple.

Washington takes a while to get to grips with the role, with his early scenes lacking in fire. But once the murder of King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) occurs, the actor kicks things into high gear, giving us not a Macbeth full of bluster, but one that gradually begins to unravel, a sense of fiery desperation. settling as his wife’s plan falls apart. .

McDormand’s characteristic sense of strength is harnessed, not only to highlight the queen’s steely nature, but to make her downfall more tragic. Seeing this powerful woman fall prey to her own ambition resulting in a poignant moment is a tribute to the actor’s talent.

It would be foolish to consider this the definitive film version of the play, as purists would say. surely object to Coen’s omissions. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that so accurately captures the power of Shakespeare’s tale.

The sense of doom, dramatically and visually accentuated, and the depiction of the evil that dwells in the darkest hearts of humanity make this “Macbeth” hard to shake.

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