King Duncan’s murder is especially rough. Washington and Brendan Gleeson play it as a macabre dance, framed so tightly that we feel the intimacy of how close one must be to stab another. It’s almost sexual. Both actors give off a regal air in their other scenes, though Washington’s is buoyed by that patented Den-ZELLL swagger. He even does the Denzel vocal tic, that “huh” he’s famous for, in some of his speeches, making me giddy enough to jump out of my skin with joy. Gleeson brings the Old Vic to his brief performance; every line and every moment feels like he’s communing with the ghosts of the famous actors who graced that hallowed London stage.
The other actors are well cast and bring their own gifts to their work. Stephen Root almost walks off with the picture as Porter. Alex Hassel gets more to do as Ross than I remembered. And there’s a great scene with an old man played by an actor I will not reveal. (Look real closely when he appears.) As for McDormand, she has her usual steely reserve, but I don’t think she fully shakes that off once we get to that “out, damned spot” scene. I had a similar problem with Washington’s scene at the banquet when he is haunted by a familiar specter. Both seem too confident to be in the thrall of temporary madness.
This “Macbeth” is as much about mood as it is about verse. The visuals acknowledge this, pulling us into the action as if we were seeing it on stage. But nowhere is the evocation of mood more prominent than in Kathryn Hunter’s revelatory performance as the Witches. There’s an otherworldliness to her appearance and her voice, as if she came from a dark place Macbeth should fear. You will have a hard time forgetting her work. She’s fantastic here, and Coen’s depiction of her cauldron bubbling is a highlight, as is the narrow staging of Macbeth’s final battle. Hawkins holds his own against the behemoth that is Denzel Washington, and their swordplay is swift and nasty.
One note of caution: High school students who use movies instead of reading the play will, as always, continue to fail English class. If chance would have you pass, then chance would pass you without your stir. So read the play, kids! Your own personal Mr. Kilinski will thank you.
Now playing in select theaters and available on Apple TV+ on January 14.