View other movie reviews
O

Studios continue to mine Shakespeare (and provide a job for Julia Stiles) with mixed results. In a post-Columbine Hollywood, where Senators and Representatives overly scrutinize movies for violence, O became something of a hot potato. This retelling of Othello sat, ready for distribution, on the shelf for two years primarily because of the level of teen violence present within the film. In the meantime, Stiles, Josh Hartnett, and to a lesser degree, Mekhi Phifer's profiles rose considerably in Hollywood. So finally, after movies like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, and even She's All That comes this latest classic story told from a high school perspective. Othello is now Odin "O" James (Phifer, Impostor, Shaft), the star basketball player, and only black kid at a preppy, all white high school. He is the epitome of coolness and the bane of Hugo Goulding (Hartnett, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor), the retooled Iago character and O's "best" friend.

Hugo is insanely jealous of O. He is jealous of the attention and popularity O receives in school, and how his own father (Martin Sheen, The Time Shifters, The Apostle Paul), who also happens to be the basketball coach, treats O like a son. At heart, Othello is about jealousy and revenge. Hugo feels that O wronged him, so he decides to make O's life a living hell. The main way he does this is through O's girlfriend Desi (Stiles, The Business of Strangers, Save the Last Dance). Hugo begins playing mind games with O, primarily trying to convince him that Desi is cheating on him with her platonic friend Michael (Andrew Keegan, The Broken Hearts Club, The Contract). O, believing Hugo to be a good friend, begins to waver in his trust of Desi. As Hugo's ploys become more malevolent, it affects O's character further. This leads to a series of violent confrontations, each one more shocking than the next.

The adaptation by director Tim Blake Nelson (Kansas, Eye of God) and screenwriter Brad Kaaya succinctly captures the spirit of the source material, but the inherent theatric nature of Othello does not quite translate to screen. What one wants to see on stage is not necessarily what one wants to see on screen. Nelson and Kaaya chose to move the battles to a high school basketball court, which is a good substitute, yet the characterizations of some of the students does not always work. Yes, teenagers are emotional, but it seems a bit far-fetched for them to go as far as O does. Then again, worse things happen (thankfully not so often) in the real world in similar situations. The same goes for teenage emotions. The very issues of rage and jealousy that cause such dramatic tension in the final chapters of O look both exaggerated and real. Most of the actors throw their hearts into their performances, with the exception of Hartnett, who is a little too subdued in his delivery. He is supposed to be mysterious, but his constant brooding gets in the way of his acting.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated R for violence, a scene of strong sexuality, language, and drug use.

Back to Movies