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21 December 2005

O (2001)

Julia Stiles (Desi), Mekhi Phifer (Odin), Josh Hartnett (Hugo), and Martin Sheen (Coach Goulding)

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson (actor in O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

From Hollywood Video: "In this modern take on Shakespeare's Othello, a high school basketball star is made to believe that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his teammate."

I find it interesting that Julia Stiles has held the lead in three modernized adaptations of Shakespeare plays: Hamlet from Hamlet, Ten Things I Hate About You from The Taming of the Shrew, and this movie from Othello. I do not see how this could be a coincidence, especially considering that she aspired to perform Shakespeare while learning her craft as a teenager. And here are a few other coincidences: this film was released in the same year as Stiles' Save the Last Dance, in which she also played a girl in love with a black young man, and it received very little fanfare because the high school violence portrayed here did not sit well with promoters or audiences following the Columbine massacre.

Tough break, because it wasn't a bad film. Nelson stayed very faithful to his source material, with no significant character omitted. Instead of a general, Odin is a basketball star, a black kid who was courted and recruited by a private high school in order to propel their team to a state championship. The only significant change is the addition of Martin Sheen's character, the basketball coach who loves "O" like a son at the expense of his relationship with his real son, Hugo, who is also on the basketball team. This father-son jealously dynamic offers an explanation to Hugo's madness and cunning, whereas scholars - especially in the last half century - have often attributed Iago's motivations to a possible homosexual attraction to Othello. In the context of a high school setting, the need for paternal attention rang true, and a homosexual attraction would have muddied an already melodramatic story.

Noticeable and disappointing, however, was a lack of dialogue. Without Shakespeare’s words and actors capable enough to deliver them convincingly (or arias in the case of an operatic interpretation) Otehllo does not contain a significant plot. The action is brief and compact. The hip-hop language in O was succinct and sparse, so Nelson fattened the run-time with several basketball scenes set to music. I was not impressed, but I doubt they were intended for me. In all, Ten Things I Hate About You is a much more spirited Stiles adaptation of Shakespeare because it keeps wit and flare for language. This one dwelt a little too long on the intended shock value and novelty of teen violence and inter-racial relationships.

Blogger Tess said...

I liked this movie, but I found the violence (especially the near-rape scene) disturbing. I'm a sucker for updated Shakespeare. I think my favorite has been Romeo + Juliet, although that updated MacBeth with Christopher Walken in it was good too.

20:27  

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