The good news is, millions of hormonally supercharged young girls may get turned on, if you’ll pardon the expression, to Shakespeare thanks to heartthrob Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Hamlet. The bad news is, they’ll be so confused and bored to tears by this mess that they’ll be too traumatized to ever read one of ol’ Bill’s plays. This film just plain didn’t need to be made. And, to get it out of the way right off the bat, no, Ethan Hawke can’t do Shakespeare. Determinedly sullen and brooding, Hammie returns to modern day New York City. (He’s also a would-be filmmaker, which is an immediate two-star deduction. Enough with movies about filmmakers, already!) His father, (Sam Shepard in one of this film’s few bright spots) the head of the Denmark Corporation, has been killed and suspicions swirl around Hamlet’s uncle Claudius (Kyle Machlachlan). That he’s assumed the CEO position at Denmark Corp and married his late brother’s wife Gertrude (Diane Venora) isn’t helping Claudius any. From here, things rapidly become obtuse, due, I suspect, to Almereyda’s regrettable decisions to cull the play down into something that runs less than two hours and emphasizing visual imagery over Shakespeare’s words (and how arrogant is that?!) The end result is the worst of both worlds; an emasculated version of a masterpiece — sort of a “Hamlet’s Greatest Hits” — that feels more tedious than the original ever could in all its four hour glory. “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” did this same schtick a few years ago; a film that set that classic play in a buzzsaw-edged, near-future urban environment while retaining the original text. The effect was startling, controversial and electrifying. Here, it’s just a stale and at times laughable stylistic retread. The beauty and rhythm of the text are ruined and the cast’s general inability to “do” Shakespeare, roughly akin to an untrained guy from the Bronx trying to pull off a Cajun accent, led to several instances of the audience guffawing in derision. I would have joined ‘em if I hadn’t been so ticked.
Posted on March 27, 2000 in Reviews by Merle Bertrand
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