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Overall Rating
2.7

Awesome: 7.94%
Worth A Look26.98%
Average: 15.87%
Pretty Bad: 25.4%
Total Crap: 23.81%

6 reviews, 27 user ratings


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Hamlet (2000)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A dark, sleek, playful adaptation."
4 stars

This is undoubtedly the first screen rendition of 'Hamlet' in which "Blockbuster Clerk" appears among the character names in the credits.

Shakespeare, of course, failed to write any dialogue for the mute Blockbuster Clerk; in an equally stunning failure, he neglected to set any scenes in a laundromat, as this new movie does. Lest any of this sound ridiculous -- a youth-chasing MTV Bard spectacle á la 1996's Romeo + Juliet -- bear in mind that this Hamlet, directed on the cheap by Michael Almereyda, is in its own way as honorable and serious an attempt as Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet. True, it's also not completely successful, but then neither was Branagh's version, which pointlessly included the pointless bits of the play in its thirst to film everything. This new Hamlet tosses out scenes by the dozen, and works quite well as a stripped-down, modern-dress vision of Shakespeare.

We're in "New York, 2000," where the young Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) slouches around in a haze of depression and contempt. His father (Sam Shepard), the CEO of Manhattan's thriving Denmark Corporation, has just died, and his mother Gertrude (Diane Venora) has jumped quite happily -- too happily -- into the arms of his uncle, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan). Hawke, moping fashionably into the camera, turns out to be a feasible melancholy Dane for this uptown Hamlet. Hawke doesn't get Kenneth Branagh's dynamism, but Branagh didn't get Hawke's nihilistic despair. Put the two together and you might have the perfect Hamlet (who is said to be perhaps the most unplayable character ever written -- an actor is lucky to get a bit of it down). Hawke's Hamlet also makes artsy videos (of himself and others), which we see a lot of, and which I could've done with a little less of.

Almereyda (who made the experimental vampire film Nadja) and his cinematographer John de Borman walk the line between sleek and grungy; they seem equally at home in Claudius' well-groomed offices and in Hamlet's VHS-littered pit. At first, as always, it's a bit jarring to hear Shakespeare's words coming from people in modern dress, and when Claudius makes his first speech he waves a copy of that morning's USA Today, with a blaring cover story on Fortinbras. (Even the eagle-eyed may not identify Fortinbras as Ben Affleck's brother Casey.) But none of it comes across as gimmicky; the movie is almost playful in its mission to burrow around inside Hamlet and discover what's still relevant about it.

Some of the actors are playful, too. Bill Murray's reading of Polonius' famous advice is a little too recitatory -- he reminded me of when I had to memorize it for school and rattled it off to a bored teacher -- but when he sends Laertes off with "The time invites you. Go!", it sounds like pure Murray; he could almost be saying "Geddouda here, ya nut." Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Venora make a great, glittering dark couple, devoted to the pleasures of the rich. (Claudius belongs in a limo with tinted windows.) Julia Stiles is a fine, sullen Ophelia -- she and Hamlet are the Prozac twins -- and comes up with an amazing breakdown scene at the Guggenheim. Even the raffish Steve Zahn (Out of Sight) turns up as a party-boy Rosencrantz; he's incongruously terrific, as is Paula Malcomson as "Marcella" (yes, Horatio's soldier acquaintance has had a sex change).

Hamlet drives steadily and forcefully to its traditionally bloody conclusion, in which Hamlet and Laertes (Liev Schreiber gives a surprisingly imposing performance) duel it out; Almereyda manages to toss in a gun on top of the usual swords and poison. Before that, there's a nicely telescoped scene in which Hamlet, in lieu of having a band of players enact his guilt-inducing play, puts together his own video pastiche pointing a finger at the murderer of his father. This video, unlike the other Hamlet snippets we've seen, has genuine power; what could have been artsy and pretentious instead cuts to the quick.

By and large, the same is true of Almereyda's movie.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1758&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/03/07 14:21:51
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User Comments

2/11/10 Jeff Wilder Interesting approach that works somewhat but not totally. 4 stars
7/12/09 the dork knight A stylish art project, nothing more. And...Bill Murray, WTF? 3 stars
6/11/08 PAUL SHORTT VISUALLY, THE FILM IS RIVETING, USING THE SETTING WITH REAL STYLE AND EMOTION 4 stars
5/08/07 Beef Cake Fell asleep, except when I heard gunshots. 2 stars
2/27/07 CRAIG TURKEVICH LETS LEAVE SHAKESPEARE TO THE BRITS 4 stars
10/10/06 eork AWFUL: Ethan Hawke made me sick, as did Stiles. The film completley slaughtered itself 1 stars
6/05/06 Annelanti if ya wanna do modern Shakespear use moddern language 1 stars
5/30/06 Taoufik Khotbi the 2000 version is a distruction of the script and a clear cut from shakespeare's main mes 2 stars
6/19/05 farnqwo Having just read the play it was a very entertaining show 5 stars
6/07/05 athena they have made Omlet out of Hamlet 1 stars
5/01/04 your daddy 1 stars
3/23/04 lyrad Gnahc Hillariaously Stupid 1 stars
10/01/02 thejames Intresting take on Hamlet. These reviewers are pretty tight assed. Enjoyable and good actin 4 stars
4/29/02 Parker I liked it. 5 stars
1/10/02 Prudence IT SUCKED!!! 1 stars
11/21/01 Symon Black Mercilessly cut, monochromatic and numb, this is the worst Shakespeare I have ever seen. 1 stars
8/07/01 Hoosiergal22 Should have had Liev in the title role; his Hamlet at the Public Theater was f**ing awesome 3 stars
7/03/01 The Stuff I might of been better with modern language and same story. I sense everyone was lost . 2 stars
4/25/01 Spetters The makers didn,t quite succeed, but a movie that hsa a good Hawke perf is alreadysomething 3 stars
2/15/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Better and less pleased-with-itself than the updated Romeo and Juliet. 4 stars
1/12/01 svetlana wow...i really enjoyed it and i guess i'm not pretentious enough to pick out its every flaw 5 stars
12/07/00 Christopher Myst Duncan Shepherd said it, the worst Hamlet rendition ever! Good bashing, Greg 1 stars
10/07/00 Jürgen Wimmer silly and boring 1 stars
7/08/00 skye chapman did not engage me. TITUS it ain't 2 stars
6/23/00 Ramsay Interesting adaptation, liked background video compilments, acting was too weak. 3 stars
6/12/00 FilmStar I loved this...Much better than R&J, a lot deeper...Murray and Stiles were great 5 stars
5/14/00 Lucas This movie was a nothing more than a brilliant display of a classic story in modern day. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  12-May-2000 (R)

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