Shakespeare puts on his O face

*The views and opinions presented in this review are not those of the Northern Light, but merely the witty banter of Leslie and Will who, for the record, never agree on anything.

 

WV: Tim Blake Nelson's first directorial effort, “Eye of God,” was a murder mystery set against the backdrop of small-town Oklahoma. It seems like the murder/ vengeance theme of that movie oddly parallels that of “O.”

LB: Murder and vengeance are definitely apparent in Nelson's modern rendition of “Othello.“ But the root of all motivation is the green-eyed monster of jealousy.

WV: Too true. Moving on though, the reason to see this movie is Nelson's directing. The pacing, blocking and framing is one of the small things only a true fan of the cinema would catch. His visual portrayal of Josh Hartnett (“Pearl Harbor”) as the outsider is genius.

LB: I pray to the altar of your cinematic knowledge! The transitions and intros of cinematographer Oliver Parker gave the movie a larger-than-life feel.

WV: Set up is key, especially when dealing with dialogue and story techniques taken out of “How to Write Melodrama in the Age of Shakespeare.” The only thing I would have liked to see, when dealing with rising stars like Julia Stiles (“Hamlet,” “Save the Last Dance”) as Desi and Mekhi Phifer (“Clockers,” “Shaft”) as Odin, is giving them some rope. It's like the modern dialogue is Nelson's way of telling us they wouldn't be able to handle the bard.

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LB: Yes Will, but the modern dialogue is crucial. In Phifer's case, it establishes the modern clash of class and race. Odin is caught between traditional white, old money of the South and the drug-ridden, urban streets that he was rescued from. The only proof we have of this clash is dialogue and that provides the link between his ethnicity and his behavior, which creates Odin's character. Dialogue is, for the most part, all we have to understand Odin. The juxtaposition between Odin and Hugo is easily established when the audience is constantly aware of Hugo's motives and actions.

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WV: Once again, agreement is reached. Hartnett's Hugo is emotive enough to get by without the back-story and constant input from other characters. It is a welcome transition from Kenneth Braunagh's Iago of the last big-screen “Othello” released in 1999. His adherence to the original text allowed him to act out his aggressions with the benefit of a Choraga, or in his case foreshadowing. Hartnett played down his dialogue, much like Benicio Del Toro, using actions to convey intent rather than superfluous and overly wordy dialogue.

LB: Will, as a woman I am appalled that you haven't once mentioned Julia Stiles as Desi. What are you, some kind of misogynist?

WV: Leslie, you ignorant slut!

LB: Well, that term seems to be applied to every female role in the movie, whether accurate or not. I won't take offense. Stiles doesn't have much room to develop Desi's character. But her redeeming quality is her assertiveness when Odin questions her fidelity.

WV: Stiles' role is played down, and the center is shifted back to Odin often enough to get the rest of her character developed through his eyes. She wrestles well with her feelings, but never makes a stand until Hugo plants the seeds of distrust.

LB: What about her attempt to stop Odin in the ultimate date rape seen? Date rape, interracial couples, drugs and kids with guns in school, this movie includes every contemporary issue that warranted its two-year delay in release.

WV: Of course, if you've been stuck in a cell of Britney Spears-induced dilirium, you would have a hard time thinkng a woman could be strong. The beauty of Stiles, in this case, is her ability to blend. She doesn't have to steal scenes or get her character involved more in the unfolding of Hugo's plot. It all comes back to Hugo. And if you had gotten past Josh Hartnett's rugged good looks and uncanny resemblance to me, then you would have seen that.

LB: Um, yeah. Brad Kaaya's adaptation of a Shakespearean tragedy made the modern warrior as an athlete, and all aspects of the jealous struggle, all too real. The reaction to reading Shakespeare's Othello is distant, but empathizing with this modern retelling is, unfortunately, easy. The horror of school shootings, like Columbine, is reflected in Kaaya's screenplay.

WV: In the end and all things considered… blah blah blah. If it wasn't for the fact that we both had read the play, then this movie would have been excellent. I would recommend this movie to the fan of mysteries. But taken into the context of Shakespeare, it offers a good example of how the bard remains timeless, that his writing and stories can withstand the change of society and civilization while connecting with the viewer, who, in this case, is probably not the average 13-year-old giggling girl with a picture of Josh Hartnett on her bedroom wall from Seventeen magazine.