Ethan and Joel Coen are names that have long been revered within the film industry - known for their snappy and clever dialogue and air-tight scripts, they have established themselves as some of the best filmmakers in the business. But this outing is a first in multiple regards - being a Joel Coen solo project as opposed to the traditional Coen Brothers co-direction - and the script is a direct, nearly uncut adaptation of the Shakespeare play, contrary to the brilliant original scripts audiences have come to expect from them. But worry not, Coen still delivers the quality we've come to expect from that name in all other areas of filmmaking.
As has been the case in nearly every adaption of the play to the screen, I assumed the 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' cast would be entirely white with very little minority representation, if any at all. So when it was announced that legendary actor Denzel Washington was set to star, I was pleasantly surprised. But even then, I anticipated him to be one of few non-white actors to have any significance in the film - but once again, I was wrong. The team behind The Tragedy of Macbeth oscar, specifically casting director Ellen Chenoweth, prioritized hiring the right actor based on talent, resume, and what they could bring to the character - imagine that. And what we get as a result is not only a brilliant and nuanced performance from Washington but also stellar performances by other Macbeth black actors such as Corey Hawkins and Moses Ingram as Macduff and Lady Macduff respectively. And I must say, the climax of the historically white story being portrayed by two black actors is incredibly refreshing. The characters of Shakespeare have been seemingly locked to white performers, at least in mainstream media, and it is long overdue for minority performers to get a chance to portray these iconic figures. And while this is by no means a predominantly black film, hiring actors like Washington and Hawkins to play these figures is a major step in the right direction.
For fans of the style of film that A24 tends to distribute, I think you'll be pleased with what Coen was able to deliver. This is a very otherworldly, almost etheric rendition of the classic tale. It is full of truly haunting imagery and reality-bending moments, thanks to cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and his ability to work with the visual effects teams but never feels overly stylized or pretentious - it strikes a delicate balance between grounded and abstract that makes for a one-of-a-kind experience. As mentioned before, every performance is outstanding and while the Shakespearean script can be a lot to absorb at times for those unfamiliar with the play, it ultimately lends itself to further envelop the viewer in the world and will remain as timeless as the story it's adapting.
Editor's Note: Tragedy of Macbeth has received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Cinematography, and Best Production Design at the 2022 Academy Awards.