Hamlet

"OK"

Hamlet Review


There's a lot of intrusively leaden, urban-industrial style and distracting, pop-edited minutia masquerading as cleverness in writer-director Michael Almereyda's modern Manhattan "Hamlet."

Just the inordinate amount of blatant product placement -- apparently a misguided commentary on consumerism -- is by itself enough to obscure Shakespeare's profundity and passion in a virtual haze. Ophelia listens to Moviefone in one scene for absolutely no reason -- she's not even going to the movies -- and the "To be or not to be" soliloquy takes place in the action section of a Blockbuster store, for cryin' out loud. Why the director would do such a thing is so confounding that you'll tune out half the speech trying to figure it out. Certainly that isn't what he had in mind.

But while it's burdened by such shortcomings, this Y2K date-stamped take on the melancholy Dane -- appropriately played by Ethan Hawke as a brooding, film student heir to a business empire called the Denmark Corp. -- is nonetheless a mildly compelling visitation on the Bard's most complicated tragic hero.

For those who don't know the story, "Hamlet" is about a prince (or in this case a trust fund brat) haunted by his murdered father (a grim Sam Shepard) and beset by the knowledge that his mother (Diane Venora) married his power-hungry uncle (Kyle MacLachlan) almost immediately afterwards.

Slowly nudged towards madness by the discovery that his new stepfather is his real father's killer, Hamlet seeks vengeance while driving away those who love him, including the unstable, nee suicidal Ophelia (Julia Stiles), daughter of Pelonious (Bill Murray), a family confidant who sees Hamlet's instability as a threat to them all.

For this update, Almereyda shows great respect for Shakespeare's text, finding creative ways to renovate the story (part of Hamlet's "get thee to a nunnery" diatribe to Ophelia is left as a harassing message on her answering machine) while retaining the 17th Century dialogue and peppering the picture with nods to the play (Hamlet lives in the Hotel Elsinore).

The resourceful, cutting-edge director earned his indie cred shooting experimental shorts with a Fisher Price Pixelvision camera (the toy used audio tape to recorded grainy black-and-white video), but here his unique style has given way somewhat to MTV imagery, HandyCam cinematography and a high rate of edits per minute that feels both rushed and choppy.

This "Hamlet" -- lets call it "Hamlet 2000" -- lacks scope and consistency, but even at its worst it's always interesting to watch, eventually pulling itself together for an intense and compelling last act, starting with the play's most emotional scene in which Hamlet blows up at his mother in her bed chamber and accidentally kills Pelonius, who was eavesdropping from her closet.

Hawke rises to the challenge of being the first age-appropriate Hamlet in screen history, even if his character seems like a bit of a cliché, a sulking hipster in a hooded sweatshirt and wrap-around shades. But while his modern inflection of voice is nicely balanced to the dialogue and he has a few stunning moments of fervor, his eyes are often strangely dead.

With a few notable exceptions (I'll get to those in a minute), the rest of the cast are likewise uneven. Although she nails Ophelia's breakdown scene (shot in the Guggenheim Museum), Stiles otherwise performs like she's at her first table-reading of the script, emphasizing random syllables with squints, nods and eyebrow dances as if she hasn't a clue what she's saying.

Ironically, other actors -- notably Murray and Liev Schreiber as Laertes, Ophelia's protective brother -- seem over-rehearsed. Although Schreiber makes a beautiful recovery in time to challenge Hamlet to a climactic rooftop duel. (The duel itself isn't very effective since they seem to be only sparring with fencing foils and not really trying to kill each other.)

Keeping their end up are Sam Shepard, perfectly eerie as Hamlet's phantom father, and Diane Venora, an experienced Shakespearean actress (she once played a female Hamlet on stage) who is mesmerizing as the queen.

Also ideally cast are Steve Zahn ("Happy, Texas," "Out of Sight") and stage actor Dechen Thurman (brother of Hawke's wife Uma), who play the Bard's comic relief characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as scruffy bar flies who kiss up to the new king.



Hamlet

Facts and Figures

Run time: 242 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 25th December 1996

Box Office Worldwide: $20.7M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Nelson Entertainment, Carolco Pictures, Icon Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Hamlet, as Gertrude, as Claudius, as The Ghost, as Polonius, as Ophelia

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.