Towards the end of last year, I’d have said the film I was most excited for was Joel Coen’s adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth. Monochrome, with a stellar cast, and produced by en vogue production house A24, on paper, it seemed as if the film was about to take the world of cinema by storm — but it didn’t.
Whilst the movie is visually breathtaking, with Kathryn Hunter who plays the witches dancing more than acting, and the rendering of the famous scene in which Birnam Wood comes for Macbeth’s head glorious in every sense of the word, there was something about this most recent adaptation of Macbeth’s classic tragedy that was just wide of the mark in many key areas.
This isn’t to say that it is not a good film, because it is, but the disappointment felt by all of us that Joel Coen didn’t deliver the definitive big-screen adaptation of Macbeth was tangible. I’d still say that Roman Polanski and Justin Kurzel’s efforts were better.
So as the news broke today of the Oscar nominations for the 94th annual ceremony, I don’t think that anybody was surprised to see that Coen has been snubbed for Best Picture and Best Director. Although leading man Denzel Washington is nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and the film finds itself nominated for Cinematography and Production Design, it says a lot. Before watching the movie, you’d have expected it to be in with a shot of landing a nod in every category, including the two most coveted ones.
The categories for which the film has been nominated is indicative of where the picture finds itself in the public eye. Denzel Washington is great as Macbeth, and he brings an intense sort of introspection to the character, doing reasonably well in his delivery. However, I would say I’m surprised that he’s been nominated for Best Actor as Timothee Chalamet in Dune was a lot more rounded. Some of Macbeth’s key lines, which are critical to the movement of the plot, are missed, lost under husky breaths and whispers.
Frances McDormand is convincing as Lady Macbeth too, but many of her soliloquies also lack that fire of the play. We have to remember that Macbeth is a story about the violence inherent to humanity and greed, and whilst these themes are there, Coen in no way makes them prominent as they should be. In short, there are some good individual performances, but across the board, it’s lacking cohesion, that thing that convinces you and pulls you in.
In the end, after “what’s done, is done”, I felt nothing apart from disappointment, this is not what Shakespeare intended.
If anything, it remains a travesty that Kathryn Hunter’s performance as the weird sisters wasn’t nominated for the Actress In A Supporting Role, as in terms of the part, she pushes it to the limits. Avant-garde in nature, she’s like a contortionist, and this is perhaps the most refreshing performance we’ve seen in a Macbeth adaptation for decades.
Overall, the film sacrifices performances and script or visuals. Whilst the visuals are stunning, I always find it’s a rather pointless exercise for everyone involved, particularly when it comes to A24 that the visuals take precedent. It can look fantastic, but if there’s no pulp, the whole thing falls flat.
We’ll see how The Tragedy of Macbeth fairs in the categories it has been nominated in for the 2022 Academy Awards, but I’d wager that things aren’t looking hopeful.