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3.8 out of 5 stars
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HALL OF FAMEon 9 January 2006
Modern directors have found a way of connecting great literature to younger audiences by putting recasting the context -- this is not a corruption, for indeed Shakespeare and other literary giants have had their work adapted for the times, and for different times, on stage and screen numerous times. Perhaps the best comparison here is the adaptation of the French 'Dangerous Liaisons' to the modern, urban 'Cruel Intentions'. One of the best places for playing out unbridled passion isn't the corporate boardroom or courtroom or political venue, but the intensely emotional and unrestrained world of teenagers and high school. It is into this context that director Tim Blake Nelson (also known for his acting in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and 'Holes') and screenwriter Brad Kaaya updated Shakespeare's play of jealousy and betrayal, Othello.
While Mekhi Phifer is the title player ('O', actually Odin James, the modern Othello), Josh Hartnett in the supporting role of Hugo (Iago) steals the show. Odin is a black basketball player in a private, mostly-white southern prep school, in love with the dean's daughter, and the star of the basketball team, setting up rivalries in the team based both on abilities and racial lines. Hugo is jealous of Odin's popularity, skill and preferential treatment by all, even Hugo's own father, Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen), the basketball coach. Hugo decides to ruin Odin, his jealousy becoming contagious of a sort to influence his roommate Roger, his own girlfriend Emily (Rain Phoenix), Odin's best friend Michael, and finally Odin's girlfriend, the dean's daughter, Desi (Desdimona, played by Julia Stiles).
This is an underappreciated gem. The language is not Shakespearean (so comparisons to the recent diCaprio Romeo + Juliet fail here), but the situations are most assuredly from Shakespeare's story. The ever-increasing layers of manipulation, as situations seem to grow out of control and each seem to take a life of their own, are dizzying and subtle, strong and astonishing.
The direction is slow and steady, as if the very pace of the film shares the slow but deepening growth of Hugo/Iago's dark desires. The styles of the southern prep school, the soundtrack shifting from urban rap to darkening orchestral backing, and the earnest performances of the actors all combine to make this a stunning piece. The ending, both the planning by Hugo, manipulating others into his intentions, as well as the actual ending is surprising but understandable. Human emotions remain constant across the centuries.
There was controversy given the high-school context and violence in this film, and it was shelved for several years, having completed production for release about the time of the Columbine High School shootings. The fears of comparison were overblown, as the situations in this film are very different. Released in 2001 to theatres, it serves as a reminder to modern audiences of how earnest and passionate teen-age emotions can be, and how timeless and universal darker passions such as jealousy can be.
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HALL OF FAMEon 9 January 2006
Modern directors have found a way of connecting great literature to younger audiences by putting recasting the context -- this is not a corruption, for indeed Shakespeare and other literary giants have had their work adapted for the times, and for different times, on stage and screen numerous times. Perhaps the best comparison here is the adaptation of the French 'Dangerous Liaisons' to the modern, urban 'Cruel Intentions'. One of the best places for playing out unbridled passion isn't the corporate boardroom or courtroom or political venue, but the intensely emotional and unrestrained world of teenagers and high school. It is into this context that director Tim Blake Nelson (also known for his acting in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and 'Holes') and screenwriter Brad Kaaya updated Shakespeare's play of jealousy and betrayal, Othello.
While Mekhi Phifer is the title player ('O', actually Odin James, the modern Othello), Josh Hartnett in the supporting role of Hugo (Iago) steals the show. Odin is a black basketball player in a private, mostly-white southern prep school, in love with the dean's daughter, and the star of the basketball team, setting up rivalries in the team based both on abilities and racial lines. Hugo is jealous of Odin's popularity, skill and preferential treatment by all, even Hugo's own father, Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen), the basketball coach. Hugo decides to ruin Odin, his jealousy becoming contagious of a sort to influence his roommate Roger, his own girlfriend Emily (Rain Phoenix), Odin's best friend Michael, and finally Odin's girlfriend, the dean's daughter, Desi (Desdimona, played by Julia Stiles).
This is an underappreciated gem. The language is not Shakespearean (so comparisons to the recent diCaprio Romeo + Juliet fail here), but the situations are most assuredly from Shakespeare's story. The ever-increasing layers of manipulation, as situations seem to grow out of control and each seem to take a life of their own, are dizzying and subtle, strong and astonishing.
The direction is slow and steady, as if the very pace of the film shares the slow but deepening growth of Hugo/Iago's dark desires. The styles of the southern prep school, the soundtrack shifting from urban rap to darkening orchestral backing, and the earnest performances of the actors all combine to make this a stunning piece. The ending, both the planning by Hugo, manipulating others into his intentions, as well as the actual ending is surprising but understandable. Human emotions remain constant across the centuries.
There was controversy given the high-school context and violence in this film, and it was shelved for several years, having completed production for release about the time of the Columbine High School shootings. The fears of comparison were overblown, as the situations in this film are very different. Released in 2001 to theatres, it serves as a reminder to modern audiences of how earnest and passionate teen-age emotions can be, and how timeless and universal darker passions such as jealousy can be.
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on 7 May 2013
I have to say, I was a little disappointed with this film. Having studied Shakespeare's Othello and seen a few productions of it, including the film version starring Laurence Fishburne, I'm very familiar with the original and frankly this version doesn't live up to it. The characters seem very one-dimensional and generally over-simplified: Hugo lacks the ingenuity and subtlety of Iago; Odin seems shallow and naive compared to Othello, who was proud and eloquent; and Emily is shady and underhanded rather than the loyal and strong-minded friend that Emilia is. Othello is probably my favourite Shakespeare play so I may have had overly high expectations, but all the same, I just thought it would be...more.

Having said that, it was by no means a terrible film. As a standalone flick, it would have been great - it's got drama, violence and romance, and has a pretty solid cast, including Julia Stiles, who starred in another Shakespeare adaptation, 10 Things I Hate About You. Actually, hers was the only character that I wasn't disappointed by: although 'Desi' is not as demure as Desdemona, I'm not a big fan of Desdemona in the original anyway. But, as a parallel to Othello, it's quite weak.

Overall, it was all right, definitely watchable but I can't say it blew me away.
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on 8 May 2009
Teen drama version of Shakespeare's drama of lust, jealousy and manipulation. Josh Hartnett is appropriately smug and unlikeable as the Iago character 'Hugo'; school basketball coach's son and all round slippery customer. Mekhi Phifer plays Othello as 'O'; basketball star and all round hero, he succumbs quickly to Hugo's manipulation and suspects his girlfriend of sleeping with other guys, eventually leading to tragedy.
With competent performances but the feel of just another high school drama movie, it's more like 'Ten Things I Hate about You' than Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2007
This is a good shot at modernising 'Othello' in an American high school situation - not at all an easy thing to do, on the surface, but it does work. The jealousy centres, not on military prowess and promotion, but on basketball, and of course a Desdemona figure (Julia Stiles, who is good) is there too. Josh Harnett takes on the tough Iago role and makes a pretty good job of it. The film does not have the disctinction of, say, 'Clueless' (based on Jane Austen's 'Emma') but it is thoroughly enjoyable and the eventual murder arises surprisingly naturally from the action.
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on 2 April 2012
"Othello" in the 20th century, and I don't think it could have been imagined in a more powerful or original way. A true work of art, if at times violent (but then Shakespeare certainly didn't shrink from it, either). The basic story is the same, though this is set at an exclusive college in the southern US, and the rivals are basketball players rather than soldiers, but all the characters are true to life and the acting is superb. Another Sundance Festival film, and the quality shows.
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on 16 January 2005
I had high hopes for this one, given the cast (including Julia Stiles in the role of Desi) , having enjoyed some of the other modern-day versions of Shakespeare plays, such as "10 Things I Hate About You".
I quite like modern-day remakes that manage to portray Shakespeares' characters as the complex, but occasionally flawed, individuals that they are. However, the "Othello" character, Odi, was not particularly strong or believable, and he is presented as a rather gullible, macho guy, making him rather one-dimensional. Julia Stiles was not given the opportunity to shine as the bright, intelligent and capable actress that she is in a script that cast her as a rather watered-down version of Desdemona (Desi in this film version). Desi's friend and roommate, Emily, who represents Shakespeare's Emilia, who is originally strong, supportive, faithful and caring to Desdemona, comes across as shifty and a bit of a traitor.
The film is set in an American Prep School, which seems more like an hotel. The male characters's story centres around High School basketball and their vying for popularity in that scene, which is something which an American/Canadian audience can more relate to more readily than a British one.
If you're struggling through your text of Othello and are desperate to see a stage or film version, I would forget this one and get hold of Janet Suzman's stage version of Othello, produced in South Africa. It has far more depth and intrigue and is definitely more memorable!
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on 4 February 2004
Originally I had rented this film to see Josh Hartnett more than anything else, but after watching it once, I had to buy it. Although it never seemed to get much publicity in the UK it's still a great film. Like Baz Luhrman's Romeo & Juliet, O is also a modern day remake of a Shakespeare play (Othello). Different setting, different names for the characters and modern english there's not much to make you think of Shakespeare, but that didn't take away from my viewing. Hartnett did a good job of making Hugo convincingly manipulative and jealous, whilst Phifer and Stiles did equally well at playing Odin and Desi, the victims of Hugo's uncontrollable jealously. The action builds up to a tragic climax which leaves the audience thinking.
"All my life I always wanted to fly, I always wanted to live like a hawk. I know you're not supposed to be jealous of anything, but to take flight, to soar above everything and everyone, now that's living. But a hawk is no good around normal birds. It can't fit in even though the other birds probably want to be hawks. They hate him for what they can't be; proud, powerful, determined, dark."
Part of Hugo's final speech was a meaning across the world. This film hasn't got the recognition it deserves, but it's definately worth buying!
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on 20 August 2015
I have given this movie 3 stars because it was just o.k. It was not as good as I was expecting; the story was a bit slow in places and the chemistry between the two many characters was lacking, unfortunately. That said it was an interesting remake and revamp of Othello.
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on 5 March 2011
Othello 'O' is a very good film which takes you through the life of Othello 'O' and the tragedy that followed. A film suitable for those who know the story of Othello and for those who enjoy watching Shakespeare.
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