Kathryn Hunter is all three of the witches in "The Tragedy of Macbeth."

And still I haven’t seen a convincing film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood comes closest, and Scotland, PA comes a surprising second, but Orson Welles’ version is stodgy and Roman Polanski’s and Justin Kurzel’s are dogged by inconsistency. You could just as easily lay that charge at Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, which opens at Grand Berry Theatre this weekend. He has tackled this Shakespeare play without his brother Ethan (who is apparently burned out on filmmaking), and the same issues that have defeated other movies of Macbeth take his down as well.

The film forgoes realism in favor of a severe, mist-shrouded black-and-white look photographed enviably by Bruno Delbonnel. The wilds of Scotland are barely dotted by any trees — thus begging the question of where Malcolm (Harry Melling) and his army find enough branches to make Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane — and the castles sport no ornamentation nor any signs that people have ever lived in them. The setting mostly fails to shed much light on this murky play, though Coen is good enough to come up with a few clever bits of staging. The sepulchral-voiced British stage veteran Kathryn Hunter plays all of the witches, merging into one or splitting into three at will and contorting her body into seemingly impossible shapes. There’s a cool bit when Macbeth (Denzel Washington) resolves to revisit the witches on the heath, and instead they appear in his bedroom while he sleeps. I also like the choreography of Macbeth’s duel with Siward (Richard Short) — the thane is unarmed while the younger man has a dagger and sword, yet at no point is Siward in control of the fight.

Still, everything I said when I reviewed Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth six years ago still holds. It’s difficult to figure out just what the deal is with this character, and Coen and Washington haven’t cracked it. Washington does noticeably better in the parts of the movie after Macbeth’s brutal murder of King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), especially when he sees the ghost of Banquo (Bertie Carvel) at the banquet, but the early scenes with him and Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) planning the assassination turn to so much mush in his hands. The same goes for McDormand, though she gives better readings of her character’s big speeches. It’s funny, the Coen brothers have made some great thrillers out of people whose lofty ambitions were taken down by their own bungling. You’d think this Shakespeare play would fit Joel Coen. No such luck, I’m afraid. One of Shakespeare’s greatest plays turns out as below-average Coen.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth
Starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Written and directed by Joel Coen, based on William Shakespeare’s play. Rated R.