7 August 2013


O (2001)
  • Director: Tim Blake Nelson
  • Based on play by William Shakespeare (uncredited)
  • Cast: Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett, Andrew Keegan, Rain Phoenix, Elden Henson. Martin Sheen, John Heard, Rachel Shumate
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Mekhi Phifer– 8 Mile, Clockers
    • Julia Stiles – Mona Lisa’s Smile, The Bourne Identity, Hamlet, 10 Things I Hate About You, Wide Awake
    • Josh Hartnett –Virgin Suicides
    • Andrew Keegan– 10 Things I Hate About You, Independence Day
    • Rain Phoenix – maybe only this one last time we saw it
    • Elden Henson – Déjà Vu, Under the Tuscan Sun, Cast Away, She’s All That
    • Martin Sheen – Catch Me If You Can, Wall Street, Gandhi, Apocalypse, Catch 22
    • John Heard – The Sopranos, Pollack, Pelican File, Waterland, Awakenings, The Trip to Bountiful,
  •  Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: Twice. About ten years ago and now: August 5, 2013.

You’d think turning Othello into a teen-aged American high school basketball star would make this easier to take. It doesn’t. O is almost as powerful and painful to watch as the real one.
Mekhi Phifer is a likeable self-confident Odin whose sensitivity to racism and vulnerability as a ghetto kid in a white prep school is skillfully manipulated into a return to drugs and violent jealousy by the neurotic and ignored Hugo, well played by Josh Hartnett.  Julia Stiles doesn’t display the powerful subtlety she does as Ophelia but she gives a good convincing typical feisty American girl in her Desi.  Phifer’s painfully passionate love for her is more convincing than hers for him but that works.
Rain Phoenix as Emily is very good but unfortunately she was given an unclear role. A strong and key character in the original (see my text on her on Shakespeare Calling, coming soon), here she sort of hovers around the fringes and we don’t really see her relationship to Hugo. She is more a voyeur than a participant for most of the film.
The pigeon-hawk symbolism of the speech-over intro and conclusion is unnecessary and rather trite as is Hugo’s contrived set-up of the murders at the end.  Why not just let it stand as in Shakespeare? It just got silly with all the time synchronizing.
But mostly the modern story twists are very clever and I especially like one of the opposing basketball teams being called the Stratfords.
It’s a strong and sad film.
4 * of 5

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