Distributed By: Lions Gate Entertainment
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I was in junior high school, my English teacher decided to try us out on a little Shakespeare. He introduced us to Romeo and Juliet and Othello. Later, I went on to read Julius Caesar and to watch a performance of Twelfth Night. I find it interesting that the stories William Shakespeare created so long ago have been recreated in one form or another over the years and never seem to lose interest. Look at the various interpretations of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew. Although more modern versions of the originals have been presented, the story is still the same and will always capture the interest of movie-goers everywhere. Even Othello has seen this sort of treatment. “O” is a modern take on Shakespeare’s original tragedy.
“O” is Odin James (Mekhi Phifer), a star player of a prep school’s basketball team. Formerly from the hood, Odin has had to fight for his right to be at the school, but now that he has shown his skills, everyone adores him, including the coach, Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen). Life has become very enjoyable for Odin. He’s the star of the team, he has a great and loyal friendship with teammate Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan) and a great relationship with girlfriend Desi Brable (Julia Stiles), the Dean’s daughter.
Unfortunately, not everyone finds Odin palatable. Roger (Elden Henson) wishes that Desi would give him the time of day, but knows that will never be possible with someone like Odin in the picture. Desi’s father (John Heard) doesn’t trust the boy from the hood who can inspire his own daughter to betray him by keeping their relationship a secret from him for four months. But Odin’s worst enemy is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), the coach’s son, who loathes him for the attention he receives from his classmates, his teammates and, most importantly, Hugo’s own father.
After being passed over for the recognition he believes he deserves from Odin and his teammates, Hugo devises a plan to destroy Odin and everything he loves. He talks Roger into helping him with this plan and even enlists his girlfriend, Emily (Rain Phoenix), into become his unwitting ally. When revealing Odin and Desi’s relationship to the Dean doesn’t work, Hugo begins to develop a more sinister plan. He decides to use Odin’s insecurities against him, dropping hints that Desi is actually sneaking around behind his back with Odin’s best friend, Michael. Hugo devises a plan to get Michael suspended from playing and advises Michael to hang out with Desi more in an effort to get her to ask for Odin’s help in reinstating Michael to the team.
Hugo’s plans work perfectly and Odin’s life begins to unravel. Plagued with doubt and haunted by perceive betrayal, Odin is putty in Hugo’s hands. Hugo pushes Odin to do the unthinkable in an effort to pay back those who have betrayed him. The plan backfires and disaster strikes, but in Hugo’s eyes he has won. Finally, all eyes are on him.
“O” is an excellent re-interpretation of Othello. I never would have thought a Shakespeare tragedy-based film would fit in this sort of setting. Mekhi Phifer’s range as an actor is proven in this film as we see Odin deteriorate from a happy young man that everyone loves to a miserable, angry, paranoid, broken individual. Josh Hartnett is the perfect Hugo (Iago in Othello), sewing the threads of deceit cunningly with a look of pure innocence that hides the true psychotic nature of the troubled youth. I’ve always loved Julia Stiles’ acting abilities and her portrayal of Desi (Desdemona in Othello) is spot on. Julia doesn’t even have to say a word in this film, her facial expressions alone are enough.
As if the movie wasn’t enough, the Deluxe Edition of “O” features two DVD filled with extras. You can watch the film in both wide or full screen, check out the Director’s Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Interviews with the Cast and Crew and a Comprehensive Analysis of Key Basketball Scenes. But my favorite is the fact that you can watch the 1922 silent film version of Othello and compare the themes of the tragedy with that of “O”.
Not all interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays are all that impressive, but “O” is one of those modern-day interpretations that you can’t afford to miss, bringing a classic to a new audience and making Shakespeare fans out of many who might have skipped over his works.