Dir: Joel Coen
Starring: Denzel Washington; Frances McDormand; Alex Hassell; Kathryn Hunter
Writers: Joel Coen (adapted) William Shakespeare (play)
Okay, so everyone knows the Coen Brothers, right? They blasted on the scene in 1984 with their brilliant film Blood Simple. Since then they made classics like Barton Fink, Fargo, Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading – I mean these guys have comedy classics and dramatic classics. It seems there is nothing these guys can do, right?
Right. This version of Macbeth is brilliant. This is all Joel Coen and he knocks this baby out of the park. He does so many things right with this material, with these actors and with this movie.
You figure, Macbeth? Ah, it’s a vanity project like Spielberg and West Side Story. It’s gonna stink and be completely horrible. After all, every writer/director yearns to do Shakespeare, right and everyone either falls asleep during it or vomits.
Joel is aware how stupid we are, and how we are in an age where schools are banning books and everyone is dancing with Tik Tok. So he takes things slow, and makes each shot vary in contrast, dramatic and interesting so you can’t look away. The actors speak slowly, and shortened some of the lines from the play, so they don’t drone on for days.
It is an unabridged version, with all the crazy, the terror and the drama. It is sensational. Joel does not overdo it with glamorous costumes, and sets and jewelry and all that. In fact, he does the exact opposite. Most sets are just walls and a tree stump. Absolute minimal, as if it were a play, which is how it was written and conceptualized in the first place. Not a single shot is outside, or in a huge castle with elaborate settings. Everything is bare. A bare room with a single bed, a bare wall, a simple staircase that can be wheeled on or off stage. It’s a built for stage, and shot like it’s on stage. To tell the truth, the production of Hamilton has more props and set pieces. That’s how bare this film is. Nothing to distract you from the words, which is what I think was the whole point.
When you throw Shakespeare in a world such as this, minimalist, his words begin to shine. His dialogue is the best dialogue ever written, and that is proven by how popular and how long his works have been treasured. So Joel made everything else barren and put Shakespeare’s words center stage. This play has a lot more famous quotes than you would remember. Every few minutes you find yourself recognizing a phrase or a saying. . From the blood, to the swords, to even the royal crown. Simple, easy to look at it, and you find yourself focusing on what they are saying, rather than the spectacle that would be the movie.
Denzel of course is masterful, as is McDormand. You would have never have guessed that she was Marge from Fargo. She really shows her range in this movie and it is delightful.
The true star in this film, for me, is Kathryn Hunter. She plays all three witches and she plays them brilliantly. She adds just the right amount of terror and vulnerability to the parts. Her voice strikes you as something is wrong, and her lanky figure which she uses to her utmost advantage makes you cringe and look at her funny at times.
It is Kathryn, who starts to add terror to this piece. Joel then continues that feeling with strong shadows and odd angles and just a great score by Carter Burwell. This film makes you look at Macbeth in a whole new terrifying light. It used to be just a boring play, but Joel and everyone else flushes this thing out and turns it into almost a Twilight Zone episode. The darkness, the black and white, the screams, the terror all come into play and you become mesmerized.
They all have taken a piece of literature that has been read to death for centuries and dragged it into a new light and makes us see it differently. Perhaps for what it truly is, but certainly for something that is very entertaining.