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Reviewed March 17th, 2002 by David Nusair


Based on Othello, O is a contemporary update that proves not everything Shakespeare wrote has relevance in this day and age.

Set in a modern-day high school, the film revolves around a group of basketball players and their friends. On the team are Hugo (Josh Hartnett), Odin (Mekhi Phifer) and Michael – a trio that seemingly get along well. But just beneath the surface lies Hugo’s rage and jealousy, directed mostly towards Odin. Odin’s won the respect and admiration of his peers and – this is the part that ticks Hugo off the most – Hugo’s own father, who just happens to coach the team (and even says that Odin is like a son to him). Hugo’s not going to take this lying down, so he comes up with a plot designed to destroy Odin (and heck, a few other people too – just for good measure). He enlists a former boyfriend of the beautiful Desi, Odin’s current squeeze, to assist in the scheme. Desi (played by Julia Stiles) eventually becomes an unwitting pawn in Hugo’s plot, which lends the film some of that good ol’ Shakespearean tragedy we’ve been waiting for.

While O does contain some good performances and a creative sense of direction by Tim Blake Nelson, the film never really becomes anything more than a curiosity. The developments that occur throughout are far too overwrought to really be convincing, and the dialogue – which remains far too faithful to Shakespeare’s intentions – comes off as forced and stagy. It’s just too artificial to ever really be convincing.

The movie is mostly entertaining, though, if only for the purpose of watching Hugo’s plan spiral completely out of control. Which is actually another fault of the film; turning the Iago character from the original play into an “aw shucks” teen. It’s easy enough to picture a morose count implementing such a complex scheme, but this movie asks us to believe that this kid could orchestrate this plot when he barely looks old enough to buy alcohol. And Hartnett doesn’t exactly come off as the cerebral type.

O is a cut above most movies featuring teenagers, but considering that its competition is crap like She’s All That and Summer Catch – that’s not saying much.

Audio: O is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack and it’s impressive. The dynamic range on this track is fairly obvious right from the start, when the movie opens with a basketball game. The crowd sounds as if it’s all around, and Martin Sheen’s turn as a barking coach especially benefits from this aggressive soundtrack.

Video: This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer does not belie the film’s low budget, as a fair amount of grain is present. But that has nothing to do with the transfer itself, which is near flawless. Given the look of the film, this DVD reflects it accurately. Everything is subdued – from brighter colors to fleshtones – and the disc does a fine job of representing that.

Extras: Starting with disc one, there’s a commentary track with director Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson is probably best known as one of the central characters in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, in which he played opposite George Clooney and John Turturro. Sadly, he proves to be a far better actor/director than speaker. He never really talks about the process of making the movie (or about the controversy surrounding it), choosing instead to describe what’s happening on screen. Also on disc one is a trailer. Moving on to the second disc, the biggest extra here is an entire movie! Granted, it’s a poorly restored copy of a silent version of Othello, but still, it’s pretty impressive. The quality is quite atrocious, but I suppose that’s to be expected of such an old flick. Next up is a series of interviews with the stars and with the director. Nothing earth shattering here, but a nice inclusion. Up next are four deleted scenes (all are very short), which add nothing terribly special to the movie. Finally, the disc is rounded out with a look at the basketball sequences (which is, in reality, just more commentary as the scenes play out), and some bonus trailers (American Psycho 2, Rules of Attraction, Rose Red, and The Wash).

Conclusion: Despite all the controversy, O never quite becomes anything more than a slightly above-average teen movie.


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