It is obvious by now that Shakespeare's work will never die out, as his plays continue to be redone time and time again. It has been the trend in the last few years to modernize his works and apply them to current situations, as seen in such films as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Titus, and now O, based on "Othello."
Oden is our modern day Othello, a basketball player that has it all - the respect of his high school, the love of a popular girl, and a prosperous future. But where there is power there is jealousy; his friend and teammate Hugo despises him for the things he has, and has decided that he will stop at nothing to take Oden down. What ensues is a bitter tale of jealousy, betrayal, lies, and murder.
O is brought to the screen with a respectable cast. Mekhi Phifer stars as the title character, bringing a pretty good range of emotions to someone who goes through them all; at the beginning of the film he is happy as he can be, and by the end... well, he's anything but. Julia Stiles has proved that she is not just a teen sensation; she is a good actress and delivers one of the sexier roles of her career her, as the object of affection. Josh Hartnett is also one who will transcend teen stardom; his ability to get roles in Pearl Harbor and the Oscar-nominated Black Hawk Down proves that. I would have to say that his character is a little weak in the movie, but only because he is written poorly.
The writing is the main problem. The dialogue and the plot are not poor, but it is not as easy as one thinks to take a play written hundreds of years ago and put it into a high school, especially one that involves lying and murder. This is where O falters; the writer took Shakespeare's story for granted and just wrote his own movie around the basic plot points of "Othello", forgetting that things need to seem reasonable in today's world. As you watch, you can pick out obvious "Othello" scenes, but they just don't seem quite right in present day. Of course, there is going to be some oddness about this kind of thing going on in a modern day high school, but that oddness needs to be incorporated into the script; the writer and director just assume that the audience will accept everything at face value.
O is just an hour and a half long, and to make it really good another half hour needed to be added. This extra half hour could have been used to develop the characters more, and stretch the story out so it does not seem so rushed. Shakespeare, as he is known for, had a colorful way with words, and that is how he defined his characters. Here, O is unfortunately in modern day English, yet the movie makes no attempts to develop the characters as they need to be developed.
O is a decent attempt at bringing another of Shakespeare's plays to modern audiences, but it is by far great. A classic script cannot be stripped of its dialogue without losing something, and at the very least, something else needs to be put in its place. Here, we get the shell of a classic with some meaningful scenes, but not a consistently riveting film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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