Teacher: “Can you name one of Shakespeare’s poems?” ^ Student: “I thought he wrote movies.”
The makers of “O” know that they are not the only ones adapting Shakespeare for the screen, that this is not just a job for Kenneth Branagh anymore. Recently the most popular method is to place his stories within present day. Shakespeare equals tragedy, tragedy equals high school, therefore… where better to transplant one of mankind’s greatest writers works.
I’m sorry to say that I do not know Shakespeare as well as I should, sadly most of my knowledge comes from movies like this. I do know that adapting a complicated play like Othello, with its many story lines and characters, into a two hour teen drama can be near impossible. However screenwriter Brad Kaaya and director Tim Blake Nelson have done an impeccable job of it. They have created one of the most complex “teen” movies of the past few years. The names have changed, but the themes and consequences have stayed the same.
Odin (Mekhi Phifer) is the only black kid in an all white prep-school, and although his skin color and lack of trust fund make him stand out, he is the most popular kid in school thanks to his outstanding play on the basketball court. But in his mind he is still an outsider. Coach Duke (Martin Sheen) loves Odin like a son, the problem is he already has a son. Hugo (Josh Harnett), a senior and one of the team leaders, hates being second in his fathers heart. His jealousy is the catalyst for all the disaster and woe in this story.
Through Hugo’s constant scheming and manipulation of his “friends”, he rips this tight group apart and leads them to a tragic end. Julia Stiles (in her second ‘Shakespeare in high school’ role) plays Desi, Odin’s true love. Their relationship is the striking point for Hugo’s fury. He deceitfully uses their friend Mike as a wedge to split them apart. Hugo’s friend Roger is a puppet with all the dirty work, an empty promise of Desi’s affection controls him. Hugo commits horrible, gut-wrenching acts against his closest friends to tarnish their reputations, hence gain the attention of his father. Some of it he seems to do out of the pure boredom of being a rich and spoiled child.
This is not a typical MTV style teen film, “O” is a well crafted and thoughtful film revolving around teenagers. There is a strong statement made in “O” about how the neglect of burgeoning young minds can lead to violence. Filmed in 1998, pre-Columbine, this horrible incident led Dimension Films to shelve the similarly themed film. Dimension a subsidiary of Miramax, who in turn is owned by Disney, a studio with a history of dropping controversial films. Thankfully Lions Gate (the savior of “Dogma”) has decided to release this film, letting audiences decide how they feel about the subject.