28 April 2013

Hamlet (Almereyda 2000)

Hamlet 2000
  • Director: Michael Almereyda
  • Based on book: Shakespeare.
  • Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Diane Venora, Kyle MacLachlan, Sam Shepard, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Ethan Hawke – Before Sunset, Tape, Snow Falling on Cedars, Gattaca, Before Sunrise, Reality Bites, Waterland, A Midnight Clear, Dead Poets’ Society
    • Julia Stiles –Mona Lisa’s Smile, The Bourne Identity, O, 10 Things I Hate About You, Wide Awake
    • Diane Venora – Romeo and Juliet, Surviving Picasso, Heat, Bird, Ironweed, Hamlet (Kline 1990)
    • Kyle MacLachlan – Snow Falling on Cedars, The Pelican Brief, Paris, Texas,
    • Bill Murray - Darjeeling Limited, Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Cradle Will Rock, Rushmore, Ed Wood, Groundhog Day, What About Bob?, Ghostbusters
    • Liev Schreiber – Repo Men, Taking Woodstock, Defiance, Kate and Leopold
    • Steve Zahn    Riding in Cars with Boys, Happy Texas, You’ve Got Mail, SubUrbia, Reality Bites,
  • Why bought: Hamlet
  • Seen: First time: early 00’s. Now: February 8, 2013

It’s hard to let this movie be itself.  While watching I kept thinking, “Oh they moved that,” or, “Oh, that’s how they’ve done that,” and “Oh, look, the Twin Peaks guy is Claudius,” but most importantly, “Clever!” or “Smart move!”
The main thing I thought, mostly, was, “Yeah, this works.”
Ethan Hawke is actually one of the best Hamlets I’ve seen – brooding, sullen, slouchy, intense. Julia Stiles rivals Helena Bonham-Carter in achieving a great Ophelia with small shifts in facial expression and cruelly reduced lines (more than half her lines were cut).  Both Liev Schreiber (Laertes) and Bill Murray (Polonius) were unexpected choices but were very good and I laughed out loud to see Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz.  He was perfect as a spaced out goofball.  Karl Geary is unknown to me but did very well as Horatio.
I was less pleased with the portrayal of Claudius and Gertrude; these roles were reduced to cardboard figures which is sadly often the case with these two characters. The jolly lustfulness dominates and the internal anguish and uncertainty is lost.  Too bad.
The setting in a world of corporate techo-frenzy works very well with some stunning scenes, especially with water.  A highlight was the use of James Dean and John Gielgud doing the skull scene to represent the Players.
The ending, with a newscaster reading Fortinbras’ lines was stolen from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet and it didn’t work very well here.  So a small disappointment after a rather strong death scene.
There was good music throughout, especially over the final credits.
Well worth seeing. If you’re not a Shakespeare expert, it’s a perfectly good way to get started, but don’t stop with this.  See Branagh’s version too!

4* of 5


  1. Perceptive, reading-my-thoughts opening paragraph. I had very very similar experience during the first watching. Things improve on revisiting, though.

    I like Ethan Hawke well enough, but I can't say I have found him one of the best Princes out there. He is a bit too sullen, thus missing the complexity inherent in the character. Hamlet is also witty, mischievous, sarcastic, even charming (with the players, especially). Then again, Ethan wasn't exactly helped by the heavily cut original. With what was left, and leaving out his hideous hat in "To be, or not to be", he did a fine job.

    I didn't much like anyone else from the cast. That subtlety of acting in Julia Stiles - it went over my head. Bill Murray could have been a wonderful Polonius if he hadn't tried to be so serious. And I'm convinced that any piece of wood would have made a better Laertes than Liev Schreiber. (How could they choose him for Charlie in "The Painted Veil"?!)) Mr Tween Peaks is as dull a King as it is possible to imagine. I have a sneaking fondness for Diane Venora's Getrude, though the mutilation of the original is very heavy here indeed.

    Last but not least, Almereyda is to blame for butchering the play almost to the point of incomprehensibility and, even more so, for his static and unimaginative director. I hanker for the vigour of Baz Luhrmann or the insight of Richard Loncrain, but none is there on the horizon.

    As I like to say, the movie is worth seeing for the same reason as "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Because New York looks great. Well, the latter has Audrey, too.

  2. Well of course I agree about Baz Luhrman. I'll see Gatsby but like Branagh, Luhrman really has to get back to Shakespeare!