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Why Joel Coen’s ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ is the Best Version

Joel Coen has gone solo to create perhaps the greatest version of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' since Shakespeare himself.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

4 / 5
4.5 / 5

Sometime in early 2022, Joel Coen released a solo directorial feature entitled The Tragedy of Macbeth. Of course, Coen is known for working with his brother Ethan, but going solo seemed like a great move for him. The Coen Brothers have been best known for Raising Arizona, True Grit, and No Country for Old Men

Their films have received high acclaim from critics and now one half of them has adapted the William Shakespeare play Macbeth. Like most of the brothers’ work, The Tragedy of Macbeth earned critical acclaim with a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

For anyone who is not familiar with William Shakespeare’s work, Macbeth is a play about Macbeth who successfully killed the current King of Scotland named Duncan. Macbeth then becomes king and at the end of the film, both Macbeth and his rival Macduff have a final battle to see who remains the victor. 

Here is why Joel Coen’s iteration of Macbeth is the best ever made.


One of the witches/crows

The style of the film shares a certain kinship with earlier, classic movies. It is filmed in black and white and its beautiful art direction and cinematography are so unique that you have to truly see it to believe and witness its excellence.  

Coen seems to mimic previous filmmakers that harbored the film technique of German Expressionism. The sets are accentuated into making the audience believe that there is something beyond that of imagination and something eerie creeps towards the viewers or, in the case of the film, something wicked this way comes.


Washington as the titular character.

First and foremost, Denzel Washington as Macbeth is probably near-perfect. When the actor is able to take a break from tough guy roles in Glory and Training Day, he beautifully fits in with the scenery and landscape of the film. 

Frances McDormand is a near-physical manifestation of what Shakespeare probably envisioned for the character. The two make the perfect duo in a film that utilizes its ensemble in the most magnificent way. Each member of the cast has their purpose in the film which is why each member seems like they have a certain kinship and history within the story making their development in the story useful and their presence, thus, justified.


Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth

The most obvious reason that this film seems like the greatest incarnation is because of its source material. It seems like the closest film version to the source material and seems more in line with Shakespeare’s vision with such sharp dialogue and a need to have every line, stanza, and word an emulation of poetry.

Given that the lead actors, Washington and McDormand, have been classically trained for this type of project, it makes the film that much more Shakesperian in its execution and grand in its scope. For most of its runtime, the actors almost blend with their theater counterparts and disappear into the character with ease. Joel Coen has a lot to be proud of and now he can add this film to his resume.