Starring: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Kathryn Hunter, and Brendan Gleeson
Directed by Joel Coen
Rating: ** ½
The Tragedy Of Macbeth: The real tragedy of Macbeth is that , like Banquo’s ghost, it haunts us from school to the end of our lives. One interpretation or the other of the Shakespearean masterpiece—and let’s face it, there’s no one quite like Shakespeare,not even Chetan Bhagat—will assail our senses.
I must say this new version of the universe’s oldest and most revered tale of nemesis and vendetta, is an intoxicating brew, and not always agreeably so. Some of what the marvellous Joel Coen(who is to Frances McDormand what Martin Scorcese is to Robert de Niro) has conjured here is plainly exceptional.
And I do mean plainly: this is a minimalist Shakespearean production, that underlines the tragedy of overweening ambition by sketching a grim austerity on screen. Hence the film is shot on what look like elaborate stage sets with Macbeth and his lady’s castle resembling an emptied-out museum which has just been robbed of all its valuables.
And that’s a fair description of the monstrous moral bankruptcy that grips the saga of murder madness and mayhem. The performances of course are so powerful they tend to overpower the core tenability and power of the plot.
It is interesting to note that some of the supporting actors are as efficacious as the central Washington-McDormand performances. I was specially blown by Alex Hassel’s Ross, who brings to the table the moral rectitude of a statesman who would rather not be a true friend to a true fiend, and , most unusually Corey Hawkins(how did Coen think of this Dr Dre player ?) as Macduff.
Watch Corey when he is informed of his wife and children’s slaughter: his face is a moving map of disbelief grief and anger. Perhaps this will get me lynched. But I’d say Corey’s Macduff is more powerfully aligned to the Shakespearean vision than the central performances that do their own thing to the immortal lines.
And the prophecy that Macbeth would die in the hands of one not born of a woman, comes true when Macduff reveals he was ripped from the womb: caesarian during times of regicide?
As for Denzel Washington’s Macbeth, he seems to know his Shakespeare well enough to give the lines his own sexy spin.He modifies the punctuations to make them dazzlingly Denzelited. Women (even those who don’t know their Shakespeare, and that covers just about 98.9 percent of the population)would find his cocked eyebrows and drawling die-alogue delivery demonically dishy.
I can see the ladies saying, “Awww, so what if he slaughtered the King ? How dare anyone even think of wearing the crown when Denzel is around?”
I found Frances McDormand’s Lady Macbeth far more mouldable and adaptive in her ability to project a scornful pleasure in showing her morally bankrupt husband the way to his dusty death.McDormand plays the power behind the throne as a childless womb-freed power-woman who will stop at nothing to fulfil her husband’s ambition because she has nothing to lose. Lady Macbeth’s transition into sleepless insanity is abrupt and much too hurried, as is the famous banquet scene where Macbeth loses it completely. These two vital turning points in the play are slapped on the screen with a violent hand, as if to remind us that Shakespeare never meant to give his protagonists any room to wriggle out of their evil designs.
The Tragedy Of Macbeth is a selfconsciously epic creation designed to give Shakespeare’s tragedy a cosmic karmic contemporary ‘cool’ spin . It is done in a controlled emotional atmosphere, as though those hands soaked in blood were not for us to see. Colourless frames have their own rationale.
Speaking of colour blindness I wonder what Shakespeare would have thought of a Black American MacBeth and Macduff? Let the eye wink at the hand….