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Overall Rating
3.67

Awesome: 21.21%
Worth A Look42.42%
Just Average: 25.76%
Pretty Crappy: 3.03%
Sucks: 7.58%

5 reviews, 36 user ratings


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O
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by Erik Childress

"Delivers Far More Dangerous Message Than Kids With Guns"
3 stars

Twelve days after the release of The China Syndrome in 1979, a little event known as Three Mile Island occurred. In 1986, a harmless little movie like SpaceCamp had the bad fortune to show up two weeks after the Challenger tragedy. In 1999, as a film described as a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello was coming along in the editing room, news of a school shooting in Colorado rocked the headlines. No one could ever predict that the town of Boulder would become synonymous with a high school named Columbine, but it seemed like a rather easy decision for the film’s distributor to delay the release of “O”, a story rooted in jealousy, lies and violence.

Sensitivity not withstanding, Othello is a universal morality tale that is even more relevant today, especially in the wake of a tragedy like Columbine. “O”, almost by default, then becomes a more compelling narrative in the age of kids killing kids, but manages to default its own power by ending on a far more disturbing and insulting note than teenagers getting shot.

Of all the recent Shakespeare “modernizations”, this film probably pulls the trick off the best. The castle settings of Venice have made way for an exclusive boarding school where Odin Jones (Mekhi Phifer) is the star basketball player. He’s adored by his girlfriend, Desi (Julia Stiles) and loved like a son by the team’s coach, Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen). Of course, Coach Duke already has a son, Hugo (Josh Hartnett) and he’s the one person that shows Odin no love.

Hugo then sets off an elaborate scheme to knock Odin off of his perch, starting by exploiting picked-on student Roger Rodriguez (Elden Henson). The key to the deception is to convince Odin under the guise of a trusted confidant, that his main girl is sneaking off behind his back with basket court go-to guy Michael Casio (Andrew Keegan). Then and only then, Hugo concludes, that his father will show him the respect he feels he rightfully deserves.

Naturally, anyone familiar with the Bard’s tale knows, at least, the Cliff Notes version of the story and all its major twists. Even the characters in the movie study Shakespeare at one point, which if they were paying attention (as the teacher observes) they may have actually realized that they were acting out the very plot of Othello. “I thought he only wrote movies,” Hugo jests in the kind of humorous ignorance you may find in schools across America.

Shakespeare may not have had the opportunity to write screenplays, but if he did they would likely either be chopped up and dumbed down or shelved into an “intelligence pile” that never sees the light of a projector. Director Tim Blake Nelson and screenwriter Brad Kaaya do a respectable job in getting the tone just right and keeping the essence of the story intact, but while it might have all of the bolts, it forgot some of the nuts.

For every minor addition there seems to be a subtraction that hurts the various sub-treacheries, giving us pause when we should be dreading the future. Hugo’s trepidation with his father’s waning attention is a perfect addition to Iago’s seemingly unmotivated hatred in the original play (although speculation over a lost promotion and an alleged infidelity between Othello and Iago’s wife, Emilia, can be cited as impetus). Roger’s infatuation for Desi is never quite fleshed out and this omission hurts the initial set-up of the guile. Even Hugo’s girlfriend, Emelia, has loyalties that are never quite clear. One scene she seems ready and willing to get in on the action, the next she’s condemning his behavior.

And why shouldn’t she? After all, Hugo creates new words for despicable with each ensuing act and while he’s not worthy of our sympathy, at least he somewhat takes responsibility for his own actions; a character trait that escapes Odin in the end. In a final speech, Odin shifts the blame for his misdeeds from himself to the “white boy.” (If this wasn’t a film about teenagers, he might have said “the man.”) It’s all his fault, according to Odin, and in many ways it is. But all Hugo did was put events in motion through innuendo and talk. Odin was not given nor uses any weapon but his own hands to commit his act of villainy. Not a gun. Not a knife. Not a violent video game. His bare hands. The world was his oyster and he sends it back because he found a pearl inside. “Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe.”

Mekhi Phifer is very good in the titular role, a character we feel sympathy for up to the point where he fails to act like a man. Josh Hartnett continues to play a single note that could only be identified on Name That Tune as an out-of-key version of “The Magic Store” (from “The Muppet Movie”.) Yet, he remains watchable only because he’s playing one of the best villains in literary history. Julia Stiles (now in a modern Shakespeare trifecta after “10 Things I Hate About You” and last year’s awful “Hamlet”) continues to look like a line reader while Martin Sheen (looking ready to have another heart attack in just about every scene) and Elden Henson are very effective in small, but key roles.

In a time and place when blameshifting has become as common as washing your hands after going to the bathroom, it’s perhaps sweet irony that the film shares the same title of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine. “O” is well-made enough for those looking for a timeless tale without all that vexing Shakespeare speak (i.e. the disastrous modern day “Romeo & Juliet” and “Hamlet”).The excisions in plot and character may have been a final editing solution to make this controversial film as short as possible. But the power of its tragedy, like any school shooting, is cheapened when their creators try to justify their outcome by displacing the burden away from those who pulled the trigger…..or used their own hands, which is a far more dangerous message than anything we could see with our own eyes.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1731&reviewer=198
originally posted: 08/29/01 10:49:36
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User Comments

1/13/16 FireWithFire Racist against Whites much, Tim? 1 stars
8/22/05 Michelle ohiofreebird Nice supplement to Othello in literature classroom 4 stars
4/10/04 ahmed ali 3 stars
1/27/04 Rapunzel Gladstone Decent typical Julia Stiles vehicle; this movie STILL has too short a "search string". 3 stars
9/22/03 Kelli love mekhi, and josh 4 stars
9/04/03 aj after reading the paly the movie did no justice to shakespears eternal masterpeice 2 stars
5/18/03 George Jung Great direction could not save this pointless movie. 1 stars
4/19/03 Dillon Harnett is better than the movie; he can act, surprise surprise 4 stars
4/18/03 Jack Sommersby Sophomoric and imprecise. A real waste of time and money. 1 stars
11/25/02 Othello: chump wit no radar fo' "that lean and hungry look" "O": fool ain't got sense nuff to check pastyfaces' bs ON HIS OWN. Hell Nawww!!!! 1 stars
9/26/02 artemishia WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER W/OUT STILES 3 stars
9/19/02 Brad I'm proud to tell my friends I wasn't bitchslapped. Thanks, Brad Kaaya 5 stars
8/31/02 Robbie Banfitch Very surprised, thought it was going to end like every other teen movie, but defied cliche 5 stars
8/26/02 I Can't Swim None of the actors are talented enough to tell such a powerful story 3 stars
6/13/02 malcolm zero character development, still a classic tale 3 stars
6/10/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi mmm...very underrated, very good 5 stars
6/01/02 stud AWSOME 5 stars
4/02/02 Film Guy Freaky Movie, Didnt like Rape 5 stars
3/02/02 Butterbean You don't believe that kids could be this stupid? Read the papers. Awesome take on Othello! 5 stars
1/31/02 Ashley Corpening Does Shakespeare's version, like this, have no likeable characters? 2 stars
1/30/02 Jay I was really moved by this. All kids and parants with kids should see this flick. 5 stars
12/03/01 Andrew Carden Julia Stilies Is Just An Excellent Actress. 5 stars
11/12/01 Missy I enjoyed it,it was very intense and shows what people will actually fall to ..to get what 4 stars
10/29/01 ash cool one 5 stars
10/21/01 Lisa Cornelius WOW !! 5 stars
9/20/01 Nebula Stayed true to the original. Excellent acting all around. 4 stars
9/11/01 derek deems an incrediably powerful ending to follow up a not-as-interesting movie. 4 stars
9/08/01 Carly David I am an English teacher and it is right in step with the bard!! 5 stars
9/04/01 ron20003 Only for idotic teens. A waste. 1 stars
9/03/01 spaceworm Wow, it was just like Shakespeare's "Othello"! 4 stars
9/01/01 Bill Dawson This movie just like every English teacher in America sucks. Chemistry and Physics rule!!! 5 stars
9/01/01 JB Good movie. Pop actors have chops! 4 stars
8/31/01 Leah This movie was great! Josh Hartnett is a great actor! 5 stars
8/29/01 Jaded Josh Hartnett is a great actor, but underappreciated because of his teen star status 4 stars
8/28/01 Jade best teen movie i have seen in a very long time. 4 stars
7/26/01 Jay Every teen will see this movie 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  31-Aug-2001 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  28-Feb-2002


Directed by
  Tim Blake Nelson

Written by
  Brad Kaaya

Cast
  Mekhi Phifer
  Julia Stiles
  Rain Phoenix
  Josh Hartnett
  John Heard
  Martin Sheen



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