Hot Hollywood star Ethan Hawke (TRAINING DAY) is joined by Julia Stiles (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) and Bill Murray (LOST IN TRANSLATION) in a hip, thoroughly contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare's epic story of... more » passion, betrayal, and revenge! The president of the Denmark Corporation is dead ... and already his wife is remarried to the man suspected of his murder! Nobody is more troubled than her son, Hamlet (Hawke). Now, after this hostile takeover, trust is impossible, passion is on the rise, and revenge is in the air! Also featuring Kyle MacLachlan (ONE NIGHT STAND), Liev Schreiber (SCREAM 3), Diane Venora (THE INSIDER), and Sam Shepard (THE PELICAN BRIEF) in an outstanding ensemble -- the power of Shakespeare's timeless words is matched by the stunningly modern look and feel of this widely acclaimed, highly entertaining big-screen event!« less
"I am a great fan of Hamlet, having seen at least 5 film versions, studied it in college and done a few scenes in acting class. This transposition to modern corporate NYC works very, very well. The Ophelia interpretation was the best I have ever seen. It was passionate, youthful and very believeable, putting me in tears in some points and making a lot of sense with her "father, PLEASE!" looks as doting Polonius (Bill Murray) patronizes her. Bill Murray did his early farewell to his son perectly - a father giving some last minute banal advice to cover his sorrow at his son's departure. The scene where Hamlet confronts mom in her bedroom and kills Polonius is very effectively done and makes more sense than most I have seen. There are a host of other modernizations that serve to bring out some areas really well. The play within a play becomes a film montage within a film montage, but that works well with Ethan Hawke's interpretation of Hamlet as a brooding college kid.On the negative side, there is quite a lot of dialogue cut, and some of your favorite scenes may be missing, but it generally makes sense. The only exception is the final scene where a modern sword fight ends in death by gunfire, and Laertes blurts out an 'I forgive you' to Hamlet which makes you wonder 'why?'Get this version for emotive content and interpretation. Get the Branagh version for completeness, the Gibson version for a more traditional (and well done) take."
Catherine Skidmore | Matawan, NJ USA | 07/16/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am so glad this finally came out on DVD. This is another one of the rare movies that I saw more than once in the theatres. Hamlet is one of my favorite plays - I've seen it performed in New York and London, in various guises, worked on two adaptations of it in very small, dark, off-off-broadway theatres, and I've read just about every book of criticism or acting method or literary analysis there is about Hamlet. I was dreading seeing this film because I went in thinking "oh great, Ethan Hawke" - and came out loving it. I was so surprised by what a good job was done putting this together. The text was adapted in such a way that it fit the modern setting so well.And I've been out drinking with Dechen Thurman (rosencrantz or guildenstern, I forget), he's just like he is in the movie."
An interesting, but not classic, take
Henry Platte | Boston, MA | 09/05/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Working from the assumption that no modern interpretation of Hamlet can be 'perfect,' the best I think we can hope for is that each interpretation gets a few things right; but that, taken together, all other interpretations can only be an accesory to the original text. This Hawke version gets a few things right, and more things wrong.
-I like Murray's Polonius. Polonius is, in many ways, a perversely sympathetic character, and Murray's depiction of a tired man and a loving father seems about right.
-Hawke does a passably good job with the monologues, especially 'to be' etc. As a lot of reviews seem to note, this monologue is delivered in a Borders video store, which I think worked pretty well. You have that sense of contrast between the lofty sentiment and the prosaic surroundings.
-At first, Stiles seems ideally suited for an Ophelia. Her constantly opaque, distracted expression and monotone delivery work well - while she's still sane.
-I like this interpretation of the ghost. You can see a certain amount of ambivalence in the way it threatens and terrifies Hamlet, rather than just appealing to his sympathies. The actor also does a fairly good job.
-The film tends to butcher the language which should be its foundation. Way too many lines are delivered offscreen as the camera is panning around (a problem in a lot of modern Shakespeares), and visual effect displaces the words. A lot of important lines are also delivered without the proper emphasis. You wonder if the director is even familiar with the time-honored practice of having the camera focus on the character who is speaking.
-Two crucial scenes, Ophelia's death and the final duel, are just plain butchered. The idiosyncratic cheerfulness of Ophelia's lunacy, in the play, is one of the things which makes her death so disturbing, and Stiles' plainly grief-stricken interpretation loses this entirely. As for the end, several important speeches, all on Laertes' part - his statement that, in essence, he does forgive Hamlet, but still must demand satisfaction; and his farewell to Hamlet after he is wounded - are omitted, depriving him of most of his character. He doesn't have many other opportunities to speak in the film, and becomes flat without these lines.
-Several elements don't work in the modern setting. You can say that it's abstract, and that's acceptable to a point, but the idea of Hamlet being sent to England, where his _head will be cut off_ - detailed in exactly those words in the movie, in an e-mail - does a lot to harm the film's credibility.
-Overall, I don't think Hawke gets Hamlet. Obviously, there's more than one way to read the character, but Hawke is way too morose, lacking any of the wit or eccentricity which it seems would have to characterize someone who willingly feigns madness. This is really evident in the 'you are a fishmonger' scene.
So, it's not the best recent version of Hamlet, but I also like it for another reason; that in a way it frees Shakespeare from the prison of Orthodox interpretation by taking so many liberties with the text and setting. Shakespeare was a populist author when he wrote, and I can't understand how his immensely entertaining work has now become the exclusive property of pedantic, Polonius-esque professors."
roseofthelake | A Hamlet in Florida, USA | 11/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Olivier's Hamlet was offensively innovative to some viewers in 1948; Burton's was, onstage in 1964; so was Derek Jacobi's (still my favorite). No doubt this Hamlet will offend someone, it exposes our culture AT THIS MOMENT too ruthlessly. But if you want to see real artists doing fine, wild and authentic work, don't miss it. I thought our opportunities to see such an original risky vision in film were gone forever. Consider the way young Hamlet, a photographer, is constantly turning in on himself -- watching himself watch himself -- through windows of various media, all the while being spied on by Claudius whenever possible. I'm ignorant of even the names of most of his visual equipment and was frequently a bit confused and disoriented. AND found it all pretty creepy...So guess what? The film let me share in young Hamlet's experience (who was also often confused and feeling creepy). Consider how Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia embody modern dysfunctional family life: invasiveness, secrets, the spoken truth disconnected to true emotion...the sullenness and horrible dependence of Polonius' adult children; the malignancy behind his constant blank look of innocence. (Bill Murray was unimaginably brilliant as Polonius.) Watching those characters, too, often left me feeling uneasy.As did Claudius and Gertrude. And others. Scene after scene, this Hamlet packs an enormous punch. I didn't think it was flawless and it's not instantly the best ever. But for complexity of intent and new, exquisitely appropriate images, it deserves full recognition. The film was a gift to us of vital creative energy. Only, don't watch it if you're not prepared to be uncomfortable some of the time: one way or another it will leave you feeling exposed. Dare I say it? Like a developing photograph?"
Best adaptation I've ever seen
Craig C. | LA | 09/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I don't blame people for not liking this version of Hamlet. I, myself, went to see it as a joke. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. This version spoke to me more than any other film version I've ever seen. Almost every bit of updating seemed organic to the story (the dueling scene aside). The families are so modern in their dysfunctions, in their inabilities to relate to one another, and Hamlet's detached attitude is completely pertinent to young adults today. And delivering the "To be or not to be" speech in the action aisle of a Blockbuster Video? Come on, that's brilliant! Even if you must fault Michael Almereyda for his choices, at least give him credit for having a take on the story. Franco Zeffereli's was fine, but about as safe as you can make it. Kenneth Branagh's was an excuse for elaborate sets and costumes, with absolutely no interpretation or real feeling. Almereyda obviously feels close to this story, and he goes out on a limb to express his vision. I think he does it beautifully. This is not a pale and heartless updating (Baz Luhrman?). It comes from a very personal place, and therefore should be open to varying opinions. But please give Michael Almereyda credit for having a vision. It's more than many Shakespeare buffs can boast."