Projections - Movie Reviews


Some may be intrigued by Tim Blake Nelson's controversial contemporary adaption of Othello simply called O, which weaves a disturbing tale of deception, love, and jealousy that comes full circle.  But what is ultimately beneath this tragedy is something that would make Shakespeare feel betrayed.

The story of the making of O with its high school violence found its release held due to the Columbine shootings; maybe an unsettling bold picture like this should have been more palatably reworked.  The Shakespearian verse shelved in favor of gritty racial vernacular feels at home with the moody rap score of Jeff Danna.

The action is modernized to a Southern prep school setting with Othello as Odin James, played by the rising black star Mekhi Phifer (Soul Food).  And the general of Venice is now the basketball star of the Palmetto Grove Hawks.  Desdemona, now Desi, the lovely white daughter of the dean (John Heard) whom Odin is dating.  Julia Stiles fills Desi with credible feeling for the guy who seems to be on the tip of his life and the best thing for the school.

In the Charlestown, S.C. locale which substitutes for Cyprus, Odin's teammates appear to take pride in having someone like him to play with.  But O has its Lago in the character of Hugo, served up with fascination, manipulation and duplicity by Josh Hartnett.  Hugo has a subtle aura of deviant cool and instability about him and he is the son of Martin Sheen's intense basketball Coach Duke Goulding.  When father gives O the MVP trophy and treats him like a son, Hugo, who serves as the narrator for O starts turning the wheels on O's head to make him believe that Desi is involved with another popular "go-to" player, Michael (Andrew Keegan).

O which starts off a little like Love and Basketball, showcases the interracial romance of O and Desi which Stiles handled well in Save the Last Dance earlier this year.  Phifer and Stiles display a confidence and intelligence in their four-month courtship.

The Hugo's magnification of lies foreshadows the ominous, harrowing acts to come as he gets an unpopular, geeky rich kid, Roger (Elden Henson) to call Dean Brable mentioning that Odin has forced himself on Desi.  That starts the ugly, low-key abusing that seems too vile even for the Bard. It's the kind of jealousy that cannot be suppressed for the championship game.  Something's rotten at the posh academy when the scarf given to Desi turns up in Michael's possession.

With the loving intimacy shared by O and Desi, Nelson and Kaaya don't convince the viewer that O would be so influenced by what he doesn't know, even as Hugo does his best to make sure that Desi and Michael look to be "best friends."

This important Shakespearian depiction is opaquely un-fulfilling , and its thematic outcome has a feeling of aimlessness.  Maybe the lack of credibility is unrealistic as O and Hugo being very close friends or O being the sole black at an exclusive Southern private institution.


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