If anyone is ever looking for a movie based on a Shakespeare play, poorly adapted into a modern story about high school basketball players, and complete with uninspired acting, then the movie O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson, is the perfect choice. The movie, which stars Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Martin Sheen, takes place in modern America and centers around private school basketball players. The star of the team, Odin, is favored by Coach Duke which rubs many players, especially the Coach’s son and Odin’s best friend, Hugo, the wrong way.
The story follows Odin; his girlfriend, Desi; Hugo; Roger, Hugo’s pawn in carrying out his elaborate revenge; Emily, Desi’s best friends and Hugo’s girlfriend; and Michael, another basketball player as they work through the extremes of jealousy. The film features exceptional casting, unimpressive overacting, and while it follows the story of Othello by Shakespeare, it is not very convincing. The actors chosen followed the limited descriptions given in the original play, but they did not look the age they were supposed to be in the movie.
Hugo, played by Josh Hartnett, who represented Iago, had dark hair and eyes, sharp facial features and shifty eyes. He perfectly fits the part of Iago, an untrustworthy and malicious man; he clearly looked like he belonged around danger. The other character who perfectly fit her role was Desi Brable, who represented Desdemona, played by Julia Stiles. She had blonde hair and an innocent but beautiful face. In the play Desdemona is first described by her father as a girl who could do no wrong and that is exactly what she looked like.
In addition to her physically fitting the part, Julia Stiles has tackled other roles from movies based on Shakespeare’s plays. First, in 10 Things I Hate About You as Kat Stratford (who represents Bianca Stratford from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) and then in Hamlet (2000) as Ophelia. The only complaint that can be given as far as casting goes is the age of the actors. Mekhi Phifer (Odin), Josh Hartnett (Hugo), and Elden Henson (Roger) were 27, 23, and 24 respectively at the time of filming.
They easily did not look the age of high schoolers which is a common problem in many movies and TV shows centered around high schoolers. Fortunately, the ‘R’ rating of the movie suggests an older audience who probably are not around high schoolers regularly and this flaw could go unnoticed by many viewers. Overall, casting was excellent; each actor fit their part very well, however, their actual performance is another story. The acting was not extremely awful, but was also not anything to win awards for (and it definitely did not win any awards).
The first scene that was quite second-rate was the office scene where Dean Brable confronts Odin and Coach Duke about a rumor involving his daughter, Desi, being raped by Odin. The Coach throughout this scene was very intense and raised his voice quite a bit. There was a point where Dean was in Odin’s face, very angry, and it looked like they might get into a physical confrontation. When the Coach pulled Dean away all of his anger disappeared from his face in a split second.
The Coach’s intensity and yelling while appropriate at some points became too much and grew very old by the end of the scene. The Dean’s acting was just plain unnatural; the point of acting is to make it look realistic and the way the emotion disappeared from his face was not. His expression and emotion should have continued and flowed throughout the scene instead of abruptly changing after each line. The mediocrity did not stop there, it continued and flourished during fight scenes, two in particular.
First was when Odin was beating up Roger, the second was when Michael and Roger fought at the party. Both scenes were very unbelievable; the punches and pushes were so absolutely fake that it ruined the whole scene. What was supposed to be serious and suspenseful became comical. Despite these almost overwhelming flaws, both of which, the overacting and poor stunts, continued throughout the movie, the acting of Josh Hartnett, who played Hugo, in Roger’s death scene was noteworthy. In this scene Hugo had just knocked Michael out with a crowbar after Roger failed to shoot him according to their plan.
After this Roger shot Michael but did not make it look like a suicide as he was supposed to. In the chaos that ensued the panic on Hugo’s face can be seen very apparent, but the moment where he decides the next step that needs to be taken, killing Roger, can also be seen. After this Brandy, a friend of Hugo arrives, and he tells her that Roger and Michael got in a fight. Every emotion and thought is perfectly played across his face openly for the viewer to see; it is clear when he is deceiving a person and clear when he is deciding what his next lie will be.
While there are positives and negatives in any aspect of a film the negatives outweighed the few scenes of satisfying acting. However unimpressive the acting may have been, it did not detract from the overall value of the story and did not overshadow the similarities to the actual play, Othello. Overall, the film followed the play quite nicely with very few differences to the original story. In the play the Duke of Venice has no familial relationship to any other character but in the film, Coach Duke (who represented the Duke of Venice) was Hugo’s (Iago) dad.
This made the Coach’s favoring of Odin even more unbearable to Hugo. It really highlighted the reason for Hugo’s envy and although it did not perfectly match the story, it perfectly represented, in a more relatable way, the kind of betrayal Hugo felt. In one scene after Odin embarrassed himself in front of a crowd and college basketball scouts Hugo said “Yeah, Dad. Who’s your favorite now? ” which further shows his disdain for being second best behind Odin. The Coach also played a much bigger role in the story than the Duke of Venice did.
In the play, the Duke of Venice become much less involved after the first act but in the movie he continues to make appearances up until the very end. His reappearances continue to put attention onto the jealousy Hugo feels towards Odin for being more talented and therefore more loved by his coach. It makes Hugo’s jealousy more believable; instead of just feeling betrayed and jealous because he did not get the promotion he wanted like in the play, he also felt betrayed and neglected by his father.
This makes it more clear for the viewer who may not know the extent of Iago’s anger in the play and how the play correlates to the movie. The most obvious difference between the play and the movie was the setting. Othello was set in Shakespearean times centered around battle while O was set in a modern day, upper class prep school centered around basketball. Making a connection between these two things was a stretch especially when it came to the murders. Every teen experiences jealousy and may even feel neglected by a parent but most would never consider killing another human being over these feelings a reasonable solution.
The positive to this unrealistic ending is that it perfectly followed the main ideas of the play; everyone who was killed in the play was killed in the movie by the same corresponding actors and so it effectively told the story. The film O based on Shakespeare’s play Othello was an average piece with favorable casting, unfavorable acting, but an overall satisfactory adaptation of the story into a modern day prep school setting despite the stretch. Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles looked the part of their characters and Stiles even had previous experience playing Shakespearean characters.
Although the ages of some actors were a little old the mature audience the movie was intended for may make this flaw go overlooked. Coach Duke’s overacting and Dean’s underacting was a disappointment and the fight scenes were comically phony; fortunately, Josh Hartnett as Hugo was able to add some value to the overall acting performed in the play. Overall the differences were positive and displayed Hugo/Iago’s jealousy more clearly. The difference in setting was a bit of a stretch which made following the story so closely, especially at the end when the homicides took place, somewhat unbelieveable.