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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.9%
Worth A Look41.79%
Average: 26.87%
Pretty Bad: 2.99%
Total Crap: 7.46%

5 reviews, 37 user ratings

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by Greg Muskewitz

"The tragedy translates."
4 stars

One Shakespeare play I managed to escape high school without reading was “Othello,” though I am vaguely familiar with the play’s issues, themes and characters. And so it is no stretch of the imagination for the dated tragedy to translate once given a facelift and transplantation to the present.

Othello becomes Odin James, or known by most as the moniker O. Now a basketball star at an otherwise exclusively all-white prep school, O’s girlfriend is Desi Brable from Desdemona, and Iago has become second-string teammate Hugo, and son of the team’s coach. For the most part, the themes translate well into the modern milieu and are relevant with today’s youth. Issues of ignorance, jealousy, deception, et al., are surely things teenagers deal with on an unpredictable basis. The coach treats his star player more like a son than his own, which initiates the real son to spurn the player and break up his relationship with the upper class white girl by slandering her image and framing others to look as though she is promiscuous. In order to do that, for the plot to work, O must be a gullible person who bases his judgments on assumption rather than fact and evidence. That key element is something that is hard to believe with these characters in this day and age. I find it too hard to believe that all of Odin’s actions would be dictated by one friend’s falsifications and without a proper attempt to verify them for his own knowledge. That blockiness is really the only obscurant element in Tim Blake Nelson’s otherwise appropriate treatment of the Shakespearean tragedy. The almost two-year controversy surrounding the release of O had to do with the school violence aspect that became so infamous around the time of the Columbine incident and therefore caused the Weinstein Brothers to hold the release of this and eventually hand it over to Lions Gate. The diffusive soap scum lensed photography of Russell Lee Fine visually mutes and neuters the images negatively, though at least the basketball footage is less extravagant and obtrusive as it often is in films of this sporting-wise ilk. Mekhi Phifer plays O with a harrowing intensity and a strong presence of physicality. His emotional frills are given a workout, and Phifer possesses a demeanor like few young actors of his generation. O is at least the third “modernized” Shakespeare project that vanguard actress Julia Stiles has been involved in (following 10 Things I Hate About You—based on “Taming of the Shrew”—and Hamlet, a modernization in the sense of setting and characters, but leaving the (hacked) text in verse), and she remains just as much of an asset and achieves a level of drama not allowed for in the prior projects. Overall, her character had too little to do with the revolving and evolving story, even though the plot all hinged on her, and that would be another amendment that could have added to this retelling. Josh Hartnett as Hugo handles the leading pressure better here than earlier this summer in Pearl Harbor, even though O was preliminarily made. Nelson, who last directed Eye of God, but was more recently seen acting in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, commendably is able to mount the tension of the ensuing events of school violence and academic rivalry, and as I stated earlier, re-interpret the tragedy at hand. One of the things that O portrays partially correct is how out-of-touch adults/parents are with today’s youth/children—how clueless they truly are when it comes to understanding and helping them. On the other hand, none of the adult characters are properly represented or included into the scheme of the film, which could be to blame of the route of translation. Regardless, it captures a pretty powerful message and will hopefully cause both the young and the old to wise up in certain respects.

With Martin Sheen, Elden Henson, Andrew Keegan, John Heard and the miscast Rain Phoenix. Written by Brad Kaaya.

Final Verdict: B.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 09/17/01 13:40:48
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User Comments

10/05/18 morris campbell not bad 3 stars
1/14/16 FireWithFire Racist against Whites much, Tim? 1 stars
8/23/05 Michelle ohiofreebird Nice supplement to Othello in literature classroom 4 stars
4/11/04 ahmed ali 3 stars
1/28/04 Rapunzel Gladstone Decent typical Julia Stiles vehicle; this movie STILL has too short a "search string". 3 stars
9/23/03 Kelli love mekhi, and josh 4 stars
9/05/03 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
4/20/03 Dillon Harnett is better than the movie; he can act, surprise surprise 4 stars
4/19/03 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
9/27/02 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
9/01/02 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
6/14/02 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
6/02/02 stud AWSOME 5 stars
4/03/02 Film Guy Freaky Movie, Didnt like Rape 5 stars
3/03/02 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
1/31/02 Jay I was really moved by this. All kids and parants with kids should see this flick. 5 stars
12/04/01 Andrew Carden Julia Stilies Is Just An Excellent Actress. 5 stars
11/13/01 Missy I enjoyed it,it was very intense and shows what people will actually fall to get what 4 stars
10/29/01 ash cool one 5 stars
10/22/01 Lisa Cornelius WOW !! 5 stars
9/21/01 Nebula Stayed true to the original. Excellent acting all around. 4 stars
9/12/01 derek deems an incrediably powerful ending to follow up a not-as-interesting movie. 4 stars
9/09/01 Carly David I am an English teacher and it is right in step with the bard!! 5 stars
9/05/01 ron20003 Only for idotic teens. A waste. 1 stars
9/03/01 spaceworm Wow, it was just like Shakespeare's "Othello"! 4 stars
9/02/01 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
9/01/01 Leah This movie was great! Josh Hartnett is a great actor! 5 stars
8/30/01 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
7/27/01 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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