starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Brendan Gleeson
written for the screen and directed by Joel Coen
by Walter Chaw The Tragedy of Macbeth is a middle-aged lament of the childless, a haunted interpretation of Shakespeare that underscores my belief that the Coen Brothers--in this case, just Joel--are/is among our finest literary critics. Their O Brother, Where Art Thou? unpacks The Odyssey as a collection of regional tales and songs; their adaptations of No Country for Old Men and True Grit demonstrate a deep understanding of not merely the specific works being adapted, but Cormac McCarthy's and Charles Portis's entire bodies of work as well. The Big Lebowski, needless to say, is a brilliant and essential take on Chandler's The Big Sleep. That their planned adaptation of James Dickey's To the White Sea with Brad Pitt hasn't happened yet and doesn't look like it ever will is a genuine tragedy. (The relative failure of their Ladykillers remake suggests this skill may be limited to the transmutation between mediums.) For his solo debut, Joel Coen has taken a German Expressionistic approach, leaning heavily into long shadows and aestheticism that feels like mourning. The film falls somewhere between the mysticism of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Orson Welles's incantatory 1948 Macbeth, though it's less wild and windswept than either, reminding in this way of how steeped in superstition and the supernatural was Shakespeare--and how raw, even stripped down, the Scottish Play seems in comparison to the Bard's other histories.