“Is this a dagger which I see before me,Macbeth
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.”
That Joel Coen’s first solo outing is a Shakespeare adaptation is something of a surprise, given that his brother and longtime collaborator chose to step away from movies in order to focus on theatre. Coen’s approach is anachronistic, retaining the original setting and dialogue, but adopting a visual style that evokes 1920s cinema, stark black and white with an almost square 1:1.19 aspect ratio from the end of the silent era, replete with rounded corners to the frame. The staging is similar with minimalist shallow-depth sets against smoky, eerily projected backdrops. This is a film that prizes atmospherics above all else, clearest perhaps from Katherine Hunter’s haunting performance as the prophesying witches, contorted in bird-like garb and movements. Denzel Washington delivers a thoughtfully low-key Macbeth, whilst Coen regular Frances McDormand is excellent in the early scenes as the instigating Lady Macbeth, but her role feels slightly sidelined in a script that compresses the play into under two hours. Brenden Gleeson stands out amongst a supporting cast which at times is overshadowed by Coen’s preoccupation with atmosphere. This is Shakespeare designed for a modern audience but not for mainstream appeal.
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