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"I am confused with many of the editorial reviews on the site. This incarnation of Othello is, in my mind, nearly perfect. Sure, it can't encapsulate everything Shakespeare intended, but it stays true to his themes of jealousy, obsession and power, and featured fantastic acting and production values.What can I say about Othello that hasn't already been said in dozens of dissertations already? As one of the "big four" (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and Othello) it has remained a benchmark for tragedies for centuries. Some people might scoff at the film's intent to make Shakespeare accessible to the lay viewer, but it truly doesn't hurt the story or interfere with Shakespeare's always delightful prose. In short, the movie outperforms any preconceived notions one might have.The cast is wonderful. A pre-Matrix Lawrence Fishburne stars as the Moor, Irene Jakob as Desdemona, and the infallible Kenneth Branaugh as Iago, Shakespeare's most complex and calculating villain. Often in Shakespeare plays, the villain is more interesting than the hero, and that is certainly true here. Branaugh steals every scene he is in with his coldly malevolent performance, and his asides to the audience are drenched in dread and rage. One can nearly pity the man, he comes off as so tortured. It is perhaps the best performance I've ever seen out of an actor, period. Fishburne was pretty much a nobody when the film was made, but that doesn't stop him from holding his own with Brannaugh and churning out the iambic pentameter. He hits his marks very well and is very convincing when it comes to acting with passion. Irene Jakob is not necessarily the choice I would have made for Desdemona. I would have chosen someone with a more coquettish personality. However, the fact that her loyalty is beyond question actually enhances the story by showing how obviously and irrationally jealous Othello becomes.The production is first-rate. The sets, sounds, costumes, etc. are fantastic. One really gets a you-are-there feeling (as corny as that sounds) by watching the movie. After overstylized (and awful) postmodern Shakespeare interpretations, it is refreshing to see the world as Shakespeare himself envisioned it.Unfortunately, the approach to involve the lay person does have a single weakness, and that is the excessive sexuality. Can we just take it at someone's word that people are deeply in love and leave something to the imagination? Sexing up Shakespeare (no pun intended) in this way just seems purely sensational, the only really problematic aspect in the film.There are those who would call Shakespeare the greatest writer and thinker in history and there are those who would call him a hack. Thankfully, those of us in the first category can enjoy this olive branch to the second. Truly entertaining and important, and with a respect for its source and its audience, this Othello is hard to beat."
A passionate production
Adam Dukovich | 03/26/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While the Orson Welles version is interesting both for its visual elements and fact that it was made over several years due to financial constraints, it does not match the passion and accessibility of the Fishburne-Branagh production.Branagh's Iago is the soul of charming evil, while Fishburne's Othello is deeply moving as a man struggling against a jealousy that ultimately overwhelms him.A third performance that rates special mention is that of Desdemona's maid (a fine actress whose name I do not recall). Although this character has virtually no lines for more than the first half of the film, she adds a sad, cynical counterpoint to Desdemona's romantic idealism.Also, the production values--the setting, cinematography, and costumes--are excellent and serve the film well."
Peter Swift | Cogan Station, PA United States | 11/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've always been a fan of Kenneth Branagh and both his acting and directing abilities. However, in the film interpretation of "Othello," I was blown away by how well he fit the role of Iago. In the play, Iago has to be two-faced all the time. He shows one side of him to one person, and another side to another. In the film, Iago works very hard to keep up his appearance with all the different characters. No character sees more than one side of him, and his plots are kept to himself. Iago is an actor, and Branagh had to perform his part and I think he did it incredibly. While talking to Othello, his facial reactions would visibly change when Othello looked the other way; the audience saw glimpses of Iago's true motives, but they were always hidden from Othello. It was incredible how quickly the transition from a sinister expression to a loving and loyal expression was made. In one scene, Iago and Othello are hugging, and Iago's face reflects contempt as soon as his face is beside Othello's face. Iago's changes aren't simply when Othello is around, but the changes are the same for when Iago deals with Roderigo. In the scenes with Roderigo, Iago has to perform doubly hard because he's being partially truthful with Iago. He's showing part of his true motives, but he still has to hide them to some extent to convince Roderigo to do his bidding. The scenes between Branagh and Michael Maloney probably impressed me the most. Roderigo may have been gullible or easily convinced, but Iago was still convincing and persuasive enough to move Roderigo from absolute hatred and distrust to absolute loyalty and thankfulness. In one scene, Roderigo is threatening to kill Iago and by the end of the scene, they're hugging and Iago can barely convince Roderigo to leave his side.The biggest change that Iago undergoes is when he is caught. In the end of the play, when Emilia finally recognizes what has happened, Iago's facial expressions finally become flat and unwavering. He puts on a stoic face and remains that way into his death. He no longer has to convince anyone of anything because they all know the truth, so he doesn't give anyone any idea of what he's thinking and doesn't talk or change his appearance. This scene left a lasting impression on me, even when he was telling Emilia to be wise or when he was killing her, there is no change in his facial expression. Overall, I was impressed with the movie. I enjoyed the acting from all the characters (not just Branagh), and I'm sure I'd enjoy watching it repeatedly."
A wonderful modern interpretation.
HAMLET | 12/03/1998
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The newest version of Othello holds up perfectly well next to its older, more respected counterparts. Kenneth Branagh is perhaps the best Iago ever put on film; his cold, poisonous gaze is truly frightening. Laurence Fishburne handles himself adequately as The Moor (and is, by the way, the first African-American to play the role in a major motion picture). Irene Jacobs struggles some with her lines, English not being her first language, but her wonderful, luminous facial expressions carry her through just fine. The play is not a complete version, having been cut a bit, but most of the trimmings were not of much importance to the plot or characters."
Fishburne Good, But Kenneth Branagh Better In This Remake.
HAMLET | 05/17/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Laurence Fishburne takes over the role owned by THE OTHER FAMOUS Laurence-yes, I'm talking about Laurence Olivier (see my review on HIS performance in the filmed theater production of "Othello")-in this remake done by Oliver Parker (who's he?), featuring Irene Jacob (who's she?) in the role formerly owned by Maggie Smith-YES, THAT Maggie Smith, when she was young and pretty and Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh ("Henry V," "Much Ado About Nothing," etc) as the villainous "Honest Iago." I enjoyed the film, but Branagh's sinister performance was what really attracted me to rent this movie on DVD. The R rating "For Sexuality" was very harsh and entirely undeserved. It was ONLY ONE scene (Othello used dialogue from the play) and when he saw her full frontal nudity, it was a wide shot (couldn't you have done a brief close-up of that?), so you only see a brief shot of her right breast and two instances where her nipple is exposed. Should've been PG-13 for brief nudity.
See Olivier's version first, but I DEFINITELY RECOMMEND this version, because of its faithfulness to the text, while taking a few liberties (every movie done from a play by Shakespeare has those) and the acting, ESPECIALLY by Branagh as the ruthless ancient of the Moor, seeking revenge and inciting jealousy to achieve his sinister goal. Shame that he gets his comeuppance. Rated PG-13 for brief nudity. "