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Hamlet in America
on 28 February 2012
Presumably taking inspiration from Baz Lurhmann's patchy, but original revival of 'Romeo and Juliet' in modern America, Michael Almereyda locates his 'Hamlet' amidst a bustling but lonely New York City, where something is rotten in the Denmark corporation. Following the suspicious death of his father, Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) returns home to investigate, and, as in the play, turns his gaze towards his Uncle Claudius, when the ghost of his father (a character imbibed with brilliant, straightforward sincerity, by Sam Shepherd), tells Hamlet of the details of his death. Hawke grows into the role during the film, starting out a little stilted, but really making his Hamlet - a combination of misanthropic slacker and tormented Shakespearean hero - his own. The cast as a whole, with the exception of a rather miscast Bill Murray, are excellent, and really bring out the psychological and social tensions of the play; from personal wishes for greed, to the feud between Hamlet and Ophelia's father.
The setting of NYC is also done successfully. Admittedly, Hamlet motorbiking down the highways of New York to return home isn't a scene for the Shakespearian purists, but remains one of the most enduring images of any adaptation of 'Hamlet'. The psychological aspects of the play don't always translate all that well to film, and where such moments are thought-provoking in the original text, they are sometimes a little on the dull side in such a visual-heavy format, and film. Similarly, Almereyda occasionally goes a little too much for style-over-substance, though the film is, on balance, both emotionally and narratively engaging, and visually striking. As modernisations of Shakespeare go, Almereyda's 'Hamlet' might not be perfect, but it certainly is one of the better class of examples. For those who like their classics with a contemporary twist, or film fans more generally looking for a gripping drama, I would not hestitate to reccommend this film.