'The Tragedy Of Macbeth' First Look: Joel Coen Directs Denzel Washington And Frances McDormand In The Legendary Shakespeare Story

Joel Coen is striking out on his own for a change with The Tragedy of Macbeth, a new adaptation of the William Shakespeare play. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand star in the tale of corrupting ambition, and the flick has just been announced as the opening night film at the 59th New York Film Festival. This news comes with a first-look photo showcasing some stunning, noir-like cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel.

The Tragedy of Macbeth First Look

I was already all-in on The Tragedy of Macbeth, but this first-look image has me even more enthralled. Look at that! It's gorgeous. It resembles the black and white cinematography of the Coen Brothers movie The Man Who Wasn't There, but that was shot by Roger Deakins, whereas this film has Bruno Delbonnel (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) behind the lens. And Macbeth isn't a Coen Brothers movie, either. Instead, Joel Coen is working on his own here, which is a first.

This image comes with the news that The Tragedy of Macbeth will make its World Premiere at the 59th New York Film Festival, where it will be the opening night film. "The New York Film Festival is a place where I've been watching movies as an audience member and showing them as a filmmaker for almost 50 years," said director Joel Coen in a statement. "It's a real privilege and a thrill to be opening the Festival this year with The Tragedy of Macbeth."

"We can't wait to welcome New York Film Festival audiences back to Lincoln Center this fall, and what a way to do that!" said Eugene Hernandez, director of the New York Film Festival. "With Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Denzel Washington, and our friends at Apple and A24 on Opening Night at Alice Tully Hall, we're setting the stage for a momentous return to our roots. Last year was a deeply meaningful edition of NYFF; our Festival traveled to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and around the country via our Virtual Cinema. This year we're back in our Upper West Side home, but you'll also find us exploring new venues and ways to connect with moviegoers in person, outdoors, and online—stay tuned!"

Dennis Lim, Director of Programming for the New York Film Festival, added: "We're proud to open the festival with a film that immediately joins the ranks of the great screen Shakespeares. Working with brilliant collaborators, including Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in stunning form, Joel Coen has made an inspired and urgent interpretation of an eternally relevant classic, a moral thriller that speaks directly to our time."


The Tragedy of Macbeth

Here's the NYFF synopsis for The Tragedy of Macbeth:

A work of stark chiaroscuro and incantatory rage, Joel Coen's boldly inventive visualization of The Scottish Play is an anguished film that stares, mouth agape, at a sorrowful world undone by blind greed and thoughtless ambition. In meticulously world-weary performances, a strikingly inward Denzel Washington is the man who would be king, and an effortlessly Machiavellian Frances McDormand is his Lady, a couple driven to political assassination—and deranged by guilt—after the cunning prognostications of a trio of "weird sisters" (a virtuoso physical inhabitation by Kathryn Hunter). Though it echoes the forbidding visual designs—and aspect ratios—of Laurence Olivier's classic 1940s Shakespeare adaptations, as well as the bloody medieval madness of Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, Coen's tale of sound and fury is entirely his own—and undoubtedly one for our moment, a frightening depiction of amoral political power-grabbing that, like its hero, ruthlessly barrels ahead into the inferno. An Apple/A24 release.

Shakespeare's Macbeth has been adapted to the screen several times before. My personal favorite is Roman Polanski's nasty, brutal take released in 1971. More recently, Justin Kurzel directed an adaptation with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. It was visually stunning, but there was something missing from the film that I couldn't quite place my finger on, and I wanted to like it more than I ultimately did.

While this is a story told many times before, the prospect of seeing Joel Coen tackle this material with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand is damned exciting. The Tragedy of Macbeth will screen at Alice Tully Hall on September 24, 2021.