Joel Coen’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” aka “ The Scottish Play” has so much to admire that I am surprised that I did not like it more. In their ambitious but doomed attempt to usurp the Scottish throne from Duncan (played by Brendan Gleason before he is dispatched from this earthly toil ) Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand do their darnedest as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth but they are never convincing as husband and wife. As couple who should know what the other is thinking even before that thought is fired across its first neuronal synapse, they seem strangely distant. It’s as if they are acting in different movies. She does have her “mad scene,” which she nicely underplays and he, no longer being the lithe gazelle of his “Glory” days seems to be bowed down under his own weight.
Among the movie’s pleasures are Bruno Delbonnel’s striking black and white cinematography, Carter Burwell’s string-heavy, Herrmann-influenced score and an impressive performance by Corey Hawkins as the avenger McDuff. However, the major reason to see this movie is the astonishing Kathryn Hunter who plays all three witches with different voices and various bodily contortions. She virtually explodes off the screen like one of her poisonous concoctions! At once creepy and hilarious, she puts everyone else in the cast to shame. The NYFCC ‘s choice Best Supporting Actress, she still has an uphill battle to win an Oscar nomination.
For me, the go-to Shakespeare adaptation will always be, no not Olivier, but Kenneth Branagh magnificent “ Hamlet” from 1996. In adapting, directing, and starring in this masterpiece, Branagh succeeded in achieving what was once thought impossible: a perfectly satisfying cinematic adaptation of “The Bard of Avon”
Coen, working for the first time without brother Ethan, has done an outstanding job in both the writing and directing departments. However, he never achieves Branagh’s sublimity.
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