In the year 1990, there were many very memorable gangster films, including Goodfellas, Miller’s Crossing, and The Godfather, Part III. Throughout that decade, there were numerous films that were modernized re-tellings of Shakespearian plays: Romeo + Juliet, Ten Things I Hate About You, My Own Private Idaho, She’s the Man, and others.
Men of Respect, which is listed as a 1990 release but appears to have opened in the U.S. in 1991, is a less-well remembered version of that trend. An adaptation of Macbeth, set in the modern-day La Cosa Nostra, it featured performances by several top-tier actors in key roles. It was also one of the sillier entries in both genres.
Macbeth has been made into movies dozens of times, and there’s a very good new version, directed by Joel Coen and starring Denzel Washington, which is currently in theaters and headed to Apple TV+ in mid-January. Film and Shakespeare scholars can debate what the best one was, but I contend very few would rank Men of Respect very highly.
The film starred John Turturro, who would appear in much better movies before and after, as “Mike Battaglia,” the Macbeth stand-in, while Turturro’s wife, Katherine Borowitz, was the Lady Macbeth analog, “Ruthie Battaglia.” Dennis Farina was “Bankie Como” (Banquo), Peter Boyle was “Matt Duffy” (Macduff), and Stanley Tucci “Mal” (Malcolm.) It’s set in New York, rather than Scotland, and no one appears to be Scottish.
Men of Respect was directed by William Reilly, and was his lone directorial credit, though he also co-wrote the 1991 thriller Mortal Thoughts, with Demi Moore and Glenne Headley. Men of Respect probably sounded like a good idea on paper. After all, the story of Macbeth is one of an ambitious general trying to climb the ladder by killing people, which isn’t exactly an unheard-of arc for mobsters. And Macbeth’s theme of all the murders slowly ruining his life and soul is also pretty familiar in the mob genre. But Men of Respect, unfortunately, is plagued by goofy writing, unintentional comedy, and hammy performances by normally talented actors.
Turturro, who gave one of his best performances the same year in another gangster movie, the Coens’ Miller’s Crossing, a film that did not include the phrase “All of these guys is of woman born. They can’t do s – – – to me” anywhere in the dialogue.
Close to Home
On a personal note, I first saw Men of Respect in a high school English class, taught by a brilliant, stentorian teacher named David Linne. He taught us Macbeth, and then thought it would be funny to show us this odd mob adaptation of it. I remember him joking about having such famous Shakespearian verse reduced to “shit happens.”
Joel Coen, like me, went to St. Louis Park High School outside Minneapolis, and there’s a chance he first read Macbeth in the same classroom that I did, a little more than 20 years earlier, a few decades before he decided to make a movie adaptation of it. Mr. Linne happened to pass away in November, just days before I saw The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Men of Respect is available on VOD channels.