And now for a film that I’m sure no one is seriously looking forward to, Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke. I guess Johnny Depp was busy, so they got the one that can’t act. Writer/director Michæl Almereyda takes a modern approach, retelling Shakespeare’s classic 400 year-old play in New York City in the year 2000. There have been more than 25 films based on Hamlet and this is certainly the most original approach. In some ways, it actually kind of works. It took me a good half hour to simply accept that the actors are speaking the classic text from the play against a radically modern backdrop. Once you get used to it, the movie can be quite enjoyable – it’s hard to screw up such a great Shakespeare play – but Ethan Hawke sure comes close. Hawke plays Hamlet who is now a struggling digital filmmaker who stays at Hotel Elsinore. The intrigue takes place within the Denmark corporation which is kind of clever. Hamlet reveals his suspicions about his father’s death through a homemade digital art film. Then, there’s a lot that falls flat such as Hamlet’s infamous “To be, or not to be” speech staged in, of all places, a Blockbuster Video Store. Horrifying.
As in the play, Hamlet seeks revenge for the death of his father and the wedding of his mother to Claudius played by Kyle MacLachlan. The rest of the cast is hit and miss with Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Sam Shepard as the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Diane Venora as Gertrude, Steven Zahn as Rosencrantz and Bill Murray as Polonius. Bill Murray? Don’t get me wrong, he was great as the groundskeeper in “Caddyshack”, and his comedy proved genius in “Stripes” but Bill Murrary doing Shakespeare just does not work. The real letdown is lightweight Ethan Hawke who just can’t pull off a serious performance without a chuckle.
Bottom line: Not to be. Definitely, not to be.