Updated retelling of William Shakespeare's tragedy 'Othello', which drops the story into the modern-day setting of an elite private school in the American South. Mekhi Phifer stars as Odin James, the only black kid in the school, and also a champion basketball player, who is dating the popular and beautiful Desi (Julia Stiles). But his best friend Hugo (Josh Hartnett) resents his popularity, and in particular Odin's relationship with Hugo's father, basketball coach Duke (Martin Sheen). To make Odin jealous and sabotage his popular status, Hugo embarks upon a carefully planned scheme of revenge, laying a series of signs to make it look as though Desi is cheating on Odin with teammate Michael (Andrew Keenan). Consumed by jealousy, Odin starts to lose his grip on everything that he holds dear...
Director Tim Blake Nelson sets Shakespeare's "Othello" in a modern-day private high school and the result is a dark, sombre teen tragedy. Mekhi Phifer (Clockers
) stars as Odin James, an African-American star basketball player at the otherwise all-white school. The coach of the team (Martin Sheen) loves Odin like a son, which causes his real son Hugo (Josh Hartnett) to squirm with jealousy and plan an elaborate revenge. Julia Stiles (a modern-dress Shakespeare regular, having also co-starred in Hamlet
and Ten Things I Hate About You
) is Desi, the virginal daughter of the dean, with whom Odin is in love. The ensuing outburst of tragic teen violence is a shocking denouement that elevates the already dangerous mood of the film to fully fledged terror.
Because of the intense violence in the film, it was shelved for years by a nervous Miramax in the wake of the real-life Columbine high school massacre. Finally, it was picked up by Lion's Gate Films. Upon viewing the film, such worry seems needless, as the film does nothing to glorify the violence it depicts. It explores themes of class, race, and all-consuming jealousy. Shakespeare's original dialogue is abandoned in favour of hip-hop-flavoured modern language, but the tale's timeless relevance remains unaltered.