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First ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ reviews hail Denzel Washington’s performance

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    Christopher Rosen
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    Double, double toil and trouble? If the first reviews out of the New York Film Festival are any indication, former Best Actor winner Denzel Washington could find himself firmly entrenched among the 2022 contenders for playing the title role in Joel Coen’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

    “Stacked with great performances, anchored by Denzel Washington’s masterfully weary soldier-turned-murderer Macbeth and Frances McDormand as his hard-edged conspirator-turned-madwoman of a spouse, and starkly rendered in expressionistic black and white, Coen’s version of one of the most oft-quoted of Shakespeare’s works is a bracingly textured cinematic plunge into some classically dark waters,” Robert Abele wrote in his review for TheWrap.

    “Denzel Washington delivers one of the best performances of his career in Joel Coen’s film,” wrote Indiewire critic David Ehrlich in his B+ review.

    Added Wilson Morales of BlackFilmandTV.com on Twitter, Washington is “commanding.”

    Adapted from William Shakespeare and without his brother, Ethan Coen, as co-conspirator and collaborator, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” marks a new chapter for Joel Coen, the Oscar-winning director behind “No Country for Old Men” and numerous other acclaimed favorites. But as Joel Coen told Deadline, there are strong parallels between “Macbeth” and something like “Fargo” or “Blood Simple.”

    “In addition to being one of the greatest writers in the English language, Shakespeare was a writer of popular entertainment. That’s what these plays were about, and this particular play prefigures so many tropes of American popular entertainment, dramatic and literary entertainment and pulp entertainment,” Joel Coen said. “It’s a couple, plotting a murder. That essentially is American pulp noir fiction. That’s James M Cain, another writer we’ve always been fascinated with, both myself and my brother. And then, there are witches in this. There are elements of a horror movie in this. All of these things which are very sort of close to my heart and my history in terms of things that I’ve been making over the last 35-40 years with my brother can be found in this play. So, it absolutely was at the top of our thinking about it.”

    McDormand, a three-time Best Actress winner and the category’s reigning champion after taking home an Oscar this year for “Nomadland,” plays Lady Macbeth in this new adaptation — a part she called a “small supporting role” in the Deadline interview. (McDormand and Joel Coen are married.) Whether she winds up competing in the supporting actress category is not yet determined — A24 and Apple TV+ will release “The Tragedy of Macbeth” on Christmas Day before it debuts on the Apple platform on January 14, 2022. But early notices for McDormand match the praise given to Washington.

    Writing for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw called Lady Macbeth the part McDormand was “born to play.”

    “Frances McDormand runs through the role with reckless abandon and commands the screen,” wrote Deadline critic Valerie Complex. “In fact, her character is so frightening, many of her scenes include subtle horror elements that add bravado to the character’s onscreen persona.”

    “A far cry from some hysterical succubus who tempts Macbeth towards his doom, McDormand plays the role with the weathered intimacy of a wife who truly wants what’s best for her husband, and thereby for herself,” wrote Ehrlich for Indiewire. “She thinks they’ve earned a reward for a lifetime of loyal service to the crown, and cooly springs into action upon learning of the prophecy and King Duncan’s decision to name his son Malcolm (Harry Melling) as his heir. It’s the restrained work of someone confident in the power of their screen image, less memorable for Lady Macbeth’s eventual meltdown than for the two-faced fun McDormand has when leaning into the ‘We’re all trying to find the guy who did this’ energy of the scenes following Duncan’s murder.”

    The ensemble for “The Tragedy of Macbeth” includes Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson, Moses Ingram, and Corey Hawkins as Macduff. The “In the Heights” star, an early contender in the Best Supporting Actor category, has similarly received strong words in the early reviews out of the New York Film Festival. Owen Gleiberman praised his “fine acting” in Variety, Bradshaw called Hawkins “fierce,” and The Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney wrote that the actor “continues to prove himself a uniquely magnetic actor with formidable backbone.”

    “The Tragedy of Macbeth” debuts Friday night at the New York Film Festival.

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