“The Tragedy of Macbeth” was directed by Joel Coen and adapted from the famous William Shakespeare play. It stars Denzel Washington as Macbeth and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth.
“Adaptation” isn’t the right word to describe this film — it’s just the play but in a motion picture format. Coen went for an extremely strict translation of the Shakespeare material, and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The “good thing” is the visual style of the film, as “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is absolutely gorgeous. Coen interestingly chose to film all of the movie on soundstages and interiors, making the film feel a lot more like a play. The sets are a bit fake-looking, but it was clearly intentional and it worked beautifully. There really isn’t any other film with the same aesthetic, and that’s a real achievement.
Unfortunately, the “bad thing” is the dialogue, which holds the entire movie back. Coen lifted all of the lines directly from the Shakespeare play itself, and while that suits the style he was going for, it makes the film utterly incomprehensible to 99% of the audience. The play was written in 1606 — it’s 2022 now. Making sure that the audience can understand and be engaged in the narrative is far more important than honoring a writer whose dialect sounds like its own language today. And the dialogue isn’t even something you get used to. Instead, you eventually give up on trying to understand the characters and lose interest in the story.
Honestly, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is too pretentious, even for a critic like me. One of my favorite movies of 2021 was “The Green Knight” — which took place in the same time period as this film — and that was the ultimate film snob movie. The reason why that film worked while this one didn’t is because “The Green Knight” still had the goal of immersing its audience. It was willing to have dialogue which wasn’t true to the time period so that the audience could actually understand the characters. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is just style over substance. Even the poster is pretentious; why does the text have to be so large that the word “Tragedy” is hyphenated?
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” is visually stunning and most of the actors give great performances, but the film’s pretentious ambitions hold it back. Shakespeare isn’t completely timeless.