The Tragedy of Macbeth is a film that is loyal to a fault. With only Shakespearean English spoken and shot in all black and white, it feels too pretentious for its own good.
The Tragedy of Macbeth tells the story of Macbeth — no twists, turns, additions, or frills. It is just the story that many already know. For those who are unfamiliar with it, get ready to pay close attention to what is spoken, in order to fully understand. While there are certainly things to love about this movie, I would have much rather gone to see the play.
This film is shot in all black and white, and while that is stunning to watch at times, and works for certain visual moments, overall it often comes off as pretentious and a bit flat. It allows the viewers minds to wander and with a story spoken in Shakespearean, there is a need to really pay attention.
It isn’t all bad though, and the amazing lead actors takes it to a new level. If it wasn’t for Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, the movie would have been a lot more of a struggle to get through. Their performances are incredible. They are both amazing at what they do, and it is proven, once again, in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The only issue with their acting is that sometimes their relationship felt a bit forced and a bit cold. However individually they are both great casting choices.
Going into this film, I only knew an overview of the story of Macbeth. I have never read the story, or seen the play, or even watched previous film versions of it before. Everything that I knew about this story was just in passing, so I was eager to dive into it. I was hoping for something like the 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet — something with a modern twist. But alas, that is not what I got.
Unfortunately, it is because of this that the middle of this movie lost its way for me. I felt a bit too overwhelmed with having to hang on every word to fully grasp what was happening. I also found myself wanting to get into the thick of the plot that I did know about, and it takes a little while to get there. That said, the final thirty minutes are worth sticking around for, and I am glad I decided to keep watching.
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One of my favorite parts about this film was the witches. They are extremely creepy and the black and white only helped to heighten this. There are moments I was watching them from behind my hands because of just how GOOD they are.
There are a lot of dark elements to this story, and while the black and white did not always work, it did do a wonderful job of adding a layer of chilling feeling to it all. It also helps with the set pieces and makes it all feel ominous, as a story like this should feel.
The Tragedy of Macbeth clocks in at one hour and forty-five minutes, which honestly is the perfect length. There is enough time to tell the story, without dragging on too much. Luckily the play is condensed into this time frame and that makes it easier to swallow for those watching. If it had remained the full length, I can’t imagine many people sticking around until the end.
This version of Macbeth is loyal to a fault though — only Shakespearean is spoken and the film is shot completely in black and white. The acting is fantastic, specifically Denzel Washington, and there are some truly visually stunning scenes. The overall feeling is dark and creepy, which is a plus, however in the end it is a bit too flat, boring, pretentious.
That said, Shakespeare fans will likely appreciate what is done here. Those new to this story will hopefully enjoy it for what it is, like I did, but might get lost a bit in the middle. With a strong beginning and end, The Tragedy of Macbeth is (barely) worth watching.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
About The Tragedy of Macbeth
A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power.
From writer/director Joel Coen and starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Harry Melling.
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Tessa Smith is a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved Film and TV Critic. She is also a Freelance Writer. Tessa has been in the Entertainment writing business for almost ten years and is a member of several Critics Associations including the Critics Choice Association, Hollywood Critics Association, and the Greater Western New York Film Critics Association.