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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.9%
Worth A Look41.79%
Just Average: 26.87%
Pretty Crappy: 2.99%
Sucks: 7.46%

5 reviews, 37 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Solid riff on Shakespeare."
4 stars

It's probably best to think of 'O' as a teen melodrama inspired by Shakespeare's 'Othello' -- much as we view 'West Side Story' as a riff on 'Romeo and Juliet' -- and not as a re-interpretation.

To me, if you're not speaking Shakespeare's language, you're not really doing the play. Shakespeare has been transmogrified so many times, though, that it seems senseless to object to a teen movie that uses Othello's basic narrative spine (nobody complained very much about Ten Things I Hate About You, which borrowed The Taming of the Shrew).

Those who love Othello probably won't tolerate O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson and written by Brad Kaaya. Those who don't feel one way or the other about the play or who don't care for it -- I myself consider it probably the most mechanistic tragedy of Shakespeare's peak period -- should settle in for a cleanly directed, passionately acted film about a prep-school basketball star, his supportive girlfriend, his duplicitous teammate, and a telltale handkerchief. As a modern-dress Othello riff, too, it beats the hell out of the Richard Gere-Andy Garcia cop thriller Internal Affairs (forgot about that one, didn't you?).

Odin Jones (Mekhi Phifer), the star hoop playa in question, is beloved and respected by everyone -- so beloved, in fact, that even a drug dealer hesitates to sell to him. The one notable exception, naturally, is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Odin's teammate, who gets overlooked (unlike Iago) not once but twice -- Hugo's own dad (Martin Sheen) is the team's coach, who publicly says he loves Odin like his own son, and Odin shares his MVP award with another player, Michael (Andrew Keegan), the movie's Cassio. So Hugo conspires to make Odin believe that the fair Desi (Julia Stiles), Odin's true love, is making the beast with two backs with someone else's back.

Tim Blake Nelson is an actor himself (you may have seen him in O Brother, Where Art Thou? playing back-up hick for George Clooney and John Turturro), and he's a fine actor's director, drawing out long, quiet scenes in which his cast can both relax and coil up. I particularly liked an early bed scene between Odin and Desi, both shirtless but chastely cloaked from the camera, as they tease one another; Phifer and Stiles build an erotic rhythm out of nothing but a few shared jokes. You may believe in their love moreso than you've believed it between Othello and Desdemona in most previous Othello films. Nelson also actually gets a performance out of Josh Hartnett, whose pinched poutiness for once works for him as the resentful Hugo. No longer acting out of "motiveless malignity," Hugo isn't the baffling evil puppetmaster Iago was, but Hartnett underplays his hand and keeps steady.

Nelson gets a little fancy at times, with repeated "O" visual motifs and recurring images of hawks and doves, but then he'll also pull out a great set-up like an extended, quiet discussion between Hugo and his father, filmed in one long take from outside a window, in which Hugo is the only one visible. And Julia Stiles, completing her neo-Shakespeare trilogy (after Ten Things I Hate About You and Hamlet), continues to be well worth watching. A natural, laid-back actress, she makes her lines sound like a bemused shrug, so when she's moved to anger -- here, a small, amazing outburst when Odin brings his suspicions to her -- it counts for something. Like most everyone else in the film (even Martin Sheen turns the volume down when necessary), Stiles comes up under the story rather than going over the top, which has been a mistake in some renditions of Othello.

The movie is classy and dead serious, but it may not meet with the approval of either Shakespeare die-hards or teen audiences. For the rest of us, though, it works.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1731&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/15/07 20:57:44
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User Comments

10/05/18 morris campbell not bad 3 stars
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
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  31-Aug-2001 (R)



Directed by
  Tim Blake Nelson

Written by
  Brad Kaaya

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

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