Before The Ladykillers in 2004, Joel Coen received sole directing credit for all the films he directed, wrote and produced with his brother, Ethan.

With The Tragedy of Macbeth, Joel gets sole directing credit again, but for a different reason: Ethan is not involved at any level. (Ethan says he wants to do other things for a while.) Therefore, this is the first true “Joel Coen” movie.

Fret not, because one Coen brother directing feels very much like the both Coen brothers directing—and this Shakespearean adaptation, written for the screen by Joel, is a stunner. Longtime Coen composer Carter Burwell is on hand, along with cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (his third Coen collaboration) and a host of familiar faces in the cast.

Denzel Washington gets his first Coen credit as the title character, a Scottish lord who takes a trio of witches a little too seriously, and becomes one of Shakespeare’s all-time biggest assholes. The role of Lady Macbeth is filled by the legendary Frances McDormand, who is married to Joel. In fact, Frances replaces Ethan as a co-producer on the project.

Washington gets to flaunt his Shakespearean prowess, showing the mental deterioration of Macbeth in a unique and fascinating fashion. (He goes nuts in a very sad, disturbing way.) McDormand brings across the nastiness of the evil Lady without making her a caricature. Both bring true originality to roles that have been played a million times before.

The film is shot in black and white, and while much of it appears to have been shot outdoors, practically all of it was shot indoors. This provides the film with an eerie, otherworldly vibe that befits the subject matter.

The hallmarks of a Coen movie are all there: incredible visuals, wonderfully eccentric performances, and that amazing attention to sound. As with his collaborations with Ethan, Joel Coen’s first solo effort is something to savor through each and every second.

That said, let’s hope Ethan is just on hiatus, and that the brothers soon get back to work on some of their original scripts. But if they never collaborate again, The Tragedy of Macbeth is proof solo Coen movies will remain creatively potent.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is now playing at the Century Theatres at The River and XD (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage), and will return Wednesday, Jan. 12, to the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs). It will begin streaming on streaming on AppleTV+ on Friday, Jan. 14.

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