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Hamlet More at IMDbPro »

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34 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

A potent translation

10/10
Author: James Chong (chongj@worldnet.att.net) from Los Angeles, CA
15 May 2000

With his stunning new vision of the most revered of Shakespeare's plays, director Michael Almereyda has effectively transposed many of the enduring themes of that classic work to our contemporary hi-tech era. Even if you are not very familiar with Shakespeare's plays or have always been confounded by his verse, one can still appreciate this film for the tremendously inventive ways by which Almereyda has interpreted the core scenes of Hamlet in the context of corporate America. His visually striking translation of scenes like Ophelia's drowning and Hamlet's famous `to be or not to be' soliloquy are a delight and true brain candy. The cast is all around superb, with the classically delivered lines from actors Liev Schreiber (Laertes) and Sam Shepard (Ghost) nicely counterbalancing the very contemporary style of delivery from Ethan Hawk (Hamlet), Bill Murray (Polonius), and Julia Stiles (Ophelia).

There will no doubt be much comparison between this film and Baz Luhrmann's flashy modern remake of Romeo and Juliet. However, whereas Luhrmann's film ultimately fails in going beyond the boundaries of its visually striking presentation, Almereyda's Hamlet proves to be far more than a mere spectacle for the senses. In fact, this is the serious flaw that plagues most of the films coming from young, talented independent filmmakers these days: all style, no substance. Well, this Hamlet has both. By setting the film deep in the heart of a very real and very modern steel and concrete American jungle like New York City, which is infused with the relics of the mass media and cold capitalistic consumerism, Almereyda powerfully enhances for the audience the sense of the desolation of his characters that results from urban isolation. This is a theme that Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai has so masterfully examined with his films Fallen Angels and Chungking Express. In Hamlet, we get a powerful dose of both Kar-Wai's visual flair and the sensitive, crumbling heart that it sheathes.

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35 out of 54 people found the following review useful:

The Film's the Thing

Author: tedg (tedg@FilmsFolded.com) from Virginia Beach
3 July 2000

Is this Hamlet? Depends on who you ask I suppose.

There are some who would require the plot and drama: a son whose inheritance is interrupted, so who may be imagining the murder of his father; a vapid, doting, hedonistic mother; a loyal, by the book counselor, his earnest son and brilliant daughter, she smitten by the prince. A scheming king -- wheels turn and everyone dies.

Some would consider the language the essential element. This is the poet's most convoluted, and heavily annotated metaphoric fabric. Shakespeare is most often celebrated for his layering and interelating of mental images, and certainly this work is his most globally elaborate (sorry).

But just as the language rides on the drama, the ideas of the play ride on the metaphors. These ideas are life-altering in their starkness: Reality, thought, creation, intent, the cause and validity of unnatural action, relationships among cocreated internal worlds. Much of this is developed in frightening and challenging terms. To my tastes, the ideas are what is important. Too many Hamlets (notably Olivier's)faithfully include the first two and never touch the third. I'd buy a complete abandonment of the first, but cannot see how one could get to the third without most of the second.

Now. This film. They have preserved the plot well enough for a film, I suppose. And they have kept the language, about one third of it anyway.

The bad:

Bill Murray is lost in Polonius, utterly lost. The production quality is poor -- that fits the film school motif (see below), but there is no excuse for the many boom mikes sticking down. They repurposed so much to fit the new setting, so why stick with swords at the end?

The biggest complaint is that they missed all the ideas, the big ones. The central example is at the end of the first act, where Hamlet says: `there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Hamlet, and Horatio are students of Wittenburg philosophy, which audiences would have understood as that of the magi Giordano Bruno, martyred by the Pope. (His book is the one Hamlet quotes when asked `what is the matter?,' and Bruno is also quoted in the northnorthwest and hawk from a handsaw lines.) The play has much to do with understanding Bruno's questions of thought and action. When Hamlet differentiates himself from Horatio, the play really starts. In this film, though, the `your' becomes `our.' Why?

The Good:

This Ophelia is wonderful. I don't know her other work yet, but it includes two other Shakespeare adaptations. She certainly was helped by the woman director, who amplifies the female roles in emotion if not screentime. She even transforms Marcello into a Marcella, Horatio's girlfriend. Rather nice. Also well done is the staging of the Rosenkrantz and Guilderstern dialog.

The central device of the film is rather clever, if not original. The play is deeply self-referential. All the rich text about introspection is what is usually cut in the name of modern impatience, and that is the case here. Also gone here is the sharply self-referential scenes of Hamlet lecturing the players. What we have in its place is self-reference about film, and filming. Hamlet and Horatio, indeed R&G and Marcella are all film students. He thinks in film (actually video), and all his ruminations are cast in visual terms, often in the context of video, even a Blockbuster store. The final chorus is in video, and much of the action is seen through surveillance cameras. The play-within-the-play is a homemade video, with clear film-school effects.

This is not as clever as it could have been in the hands of a master. (Or when the goals are exceedingly simple as in `American Beauty.') But it is an honest attempt to cast the reflexive depth of the play in cinematic terms.

Sam Shepard is the best King Hamlet's ghost I have ever seen. He is a solid blessing.

This is a respectable effort, and deserves to be viewed if not celebrated.

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14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Uncomprehending...

Author: (missfoley@hotmail.com) from Canada
16 August 2001

First of all, this is a beautiful film. It does however, have many weak points. It is very reminiscent of the Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet; but somehow it is not as powerful. Ethan Hawke bursts of adequatulence as Hamlet, but nothing more. Although he says his lines with true emotion, it doesn't seem like he understands what he is saying. The only true Shakespearin actor is Liev Schreiber (you'll recognize him from Scream. His portrayal of Laertes helps the viewer understand what is going on in the film; while the other actors manage only to confuse. It doesn't help that a great portion of the play; including the famous graveyard scene; are left out. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, modernization of Hamlet doesn't work well, at least not in this adaptation. Switching from swords to guns changes the plotline too much. For someone who hasn't read Hamlet, or seen another version, it might be hard to understand the plotline, especially becuase the audio tack is poor and muddled by traffic and background noise. On the other hand, those that are familiar with Hamlet may be disappointed with the performances and with the editing of the play. Although it may be a little long, I would recommend the Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet to someone who wants to see a true vision of what Hamlet could be.

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17 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Bravo!

8/10
Author: sdl-2 from Waltham, Massachusetts
28 April 2001

Nearly four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare continues to be the best screenwriter in the English language. This beautiful, moody, stylish adaptation of his greatest play is no exception. Another wonderful thing about the Bard is how his drama seems to elevate any actor willing to take on the challenge. I especially enjoyed Bill Murray as Polonius: his performance was all the more delightful because of the necessity of restraining his comic genius here; he appears always on the edge of cracking a joke, and of course doesn't, adding even more tension to an already extremely taught production.

But what I loved most about this movie was how it departed from the usual staging conventions (medieval costume, stone castles) to get at the heart of what the play is really about: a kid coming home on a college break and discovering that his uncle has murdered his father and is having sex with his mother. Ethan Hawke does a fantastic job in the role, giving us the brooding, confused, lovesick, and ultimately self-destructive adolescent that Shakespeare intended.

If I were a high-school English teacher, this is the Hamlet that I would want to show my students.

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15 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Either Almereyda or the Miramax really missed the boat with this one.

Author: lancer0410 (lancer0410@hotmail.com) from Ithaca, NY
28 May 2004

Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Sam Shepard, Diane Venora, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary; directed by Michael Almereyda, loosely based on the play by the Immortal William Shakespeare This is not your father's Hamlet, and really not your Hamlet either.

Set in modern day New York City, this adaptation by director Michael Almereyda attempts to blend the all time classic with a modern day lifestyle, while retaining the traditional speech and lines of the play. Unintentionally comical for those familiar with the piece, it actually is able to combine the two worlds of twentieth century New York and sixteenth century Denmark quite well.

However this is also the movies downfall, as only with a working knowledge of the classic are you able to understand the modern work, otherwise it is completely incoherent, with vital cogs of the plot missing.

Denmark is no longer a country but now a corporation, Cladius (MacLachlan) not a King, but now a CEO. Computers and video are now the norm, as this is how the movie begins. Polonius (Murray) is both the best character and also probably miscast, as he would have done much better in a cameo as the gravedigger, a scene that is deleted entirely! This gem and other scenes were deleted in order to pare down the length of the film, while attempting to preserve all major known lines. Yet, as earlier mentioned, for those who do not have a strong background in the classical work, you will be quickly lost. The so-called 'fluff' that the producers thought Shakespeare used actually made the tale so brilliant, relevant, and understandable. The modern work is none of these, only an ancillary piece for those with a vast Hamlet knowledge.

The major scenes are also greatly adapted to fit the environment, mostly to no effect. Most of the movie occurs in high-rise apartments or board rooms, giving it an awkward type of feel. With Hamlet (Hawke) and Ophelia (Stiles) being constantly watched in a city such as New York, i thought I was observing a Mafia film, as indeed that is what the Denmark corporation felt like, killing of Old Hamlet and all. Maybe that adaptation could've been a better fit, for the reduced length also makes the piece less-watchable, and much more bland with none of the intrigue. The murder of Polonius in the laundromat, Old Hamlet being seen on a security camera, and Ophelia committing suicide in a Guggenheim fountain just does not have the same feel, something is definitely missing.

In all this film likely misses both it's core audience and lacks the mass-market appeal that it was trying for. If a full four-hour version was released word-for-word of the original work, it would likely be a cult classic, as it has the makings of a strong work. In all honesty, how can such a great work like Hamlet be lacking if shown in its entirety? In the attempt for a higher box-office, the two hour version has no soul. If you find yourself in Blockbuster and face the same question as Hamlet, of whether this version is 'To be or not to be' showing on your TV that night, most likely it is not to be. However, if you are a teenage girl and enjoy looking at Ethan Hawke, or a Shakespeare aficionado who wishes to laugh at some unintentional humor, this could be the ticket. A shame that more did not come out of such a great cast, interesting premise, and mother of all base material in Shakespeare. Either Almereyda or the Miramax really missed the boat with this one.

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20 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Nice try, but not the words don't all come trippingly from all the actors' tongues.

6/10
Author: mp-25 from glendale, new york
31 July 2000

Here is the first film version of Hamlet to come along in modern New York. The director's use of New York is fun to watch for this native New Yorker, although how a limo can quickly move from 42nd St. between Broadway and Eighth Avenue to 48th St. and Sixth Avenue is beyond me.

But asisde from that, all we care about when we see Hamlet is how is the text handled, by both the director and the cast. The director, Michael Almereyda, has cut into the script and most of the film runs surprising lean for something that runs one hour, fifty-three minutes. His use of short films in the background, speaker phones, TV's and the like run the gambit from ingeneous to "Give me a BREAK!"

The casting however is inconsitent, for which we can certainly blame the director. Ethan Hawke, in the title role, has drive and energy. But if anybody remembers the TV show "The Critic", when they had Keanu Reeves doing Hamlet, then you know what I'm thinking. The words "Dude" and "Whoa" seems ready to break into Hawke's speeches at anytime. The complexity is replaced by a whiny "I'm in pain, but I'm cool" attitude for the bulk of the film and it doesn't really work. The mumbling of at least a fourth of his lines doesn't help either. He works better in silence, brooding.

The silence works even better for Julia Styles as Ophelia. When quiet, the pain of abandonment and loss is heartfelt. Then she opens her mouth, and the lack of a developed character as well as an appalling lack of command of Shakespeare's words is obvious. Ophelia, never mind getting thee to a nunnery, get thee "Beverly Hills, 90210", GO!

Bill Murray veers form earnestness to his Lounge Singer's act from "SNL" when doing Polonius. I know the role was suppose to be for comic relief. But after a while, everything Murray says is funny- intenionally or otherwise.

Kyle McLaughlin, as Claudius, doesn't fare much better. There is little distinction in his line readings, and in the end, he just comes off as a one-trick pony. Diane Verona is marginally better as Gertrude. The attitude is there, as is the pain, but her line readings lack a freshness to them.

The standouts are Sam Sheppard as the Ghost, Steve Zahn and Dechen Thurman as Rosencrnatz & Guildenstern, and especially Liev Schrieber as Laertes. Schrieber in paricularly as the energy, clearity, and believabilty that makes you wonder what if he played Hamlet instead of Schrieber. We probably would have had a better movie.

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7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Well, okay, it ain't exactly Olivier, but...............

7/10
Author: ween-3
17 January 2007

any movie that attempts to bring the Shakespeare canon to a new audience has to be allowed fairly wide latitude...so in the age of "Clerks", only right and fitting that we get a taste of Hamlet as a Kevin Smith-type community college slacker...filming from a severely truncated version of the play, this "Hamlet" still manages to provide some clever moments of originality...the "to be or not to be" monologue set in the "action" section of Blockbuster; an Ophelia who betrays Hamlet; the use of speakerphones and faxes to deliver dialog, in lieu of actors on screen...yeah, it's gimmicky...but if this is what it takes to get the Bard to the x and y-genners, then so be it...Joseph Papp would have approved...

that said, there's some interesting takes by Julia Stiles (Ophelia), Diana Venora (the Queen) and Bill Murray (Polonius) on their respective characters...it ain't all style over substance...

so come on, folks...you gave Mel a shot at this, didn't ya? give it a go...

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

I didn't like it

Author: OliviaF from Sydney
14 February 2003

I only liked two things about this film: 1) The performance by Kyle McLachlan as Claudius and 2) The play within the play.

But first, let me say from the outset that on the whole, this version of Hamlet was flat and uninspired. Ethan Hawke practically croaked his lines all the way through which rendered much of the poetic dialogue in the play as dull and meaningless. Secondly, the director tried so hard to be creative with the modern surroundings, and yet it did not gel in this movie. WHY in God's name would Hamlet and Laeters duel in a swordfight in a modern day setting? WHY would a country such as England execute two innocent citizens due to a message in a laptop? And why is it that in practically EVERY Hamlet movie I've seen, including this one, does Horatio just stand off to the side with a disinterested look on his face and not show shock and emotion when Hamlet is dying? Everyone just seems to stand around staring at the dying character.

Reciting "To be or not to be" in a blockbuster video shop completely misses the point. Sure, in this movie it was Hamlet's world of movies and violence, but it failed to really show what was going on in his mind. We rarely get to see his anger or his confusion or his sharp intellect which was the essence of Hamlet, instead we get this grunge brooding portrait ala Reality Bites type character.

Kudos should go to Kyle McLachlan for not falling into the trap of delivering his lines without meaning - he delivered every line flawlessly and made it sound so convincing in a modern setting. His version of Claudius as the charming yet smarmy businessman with devilish like intentions was probably the best version of Claudius I have seen for a long while.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Innovative film

8/10
Author: Deming Herbert from Montpellier, France
27 December 2000

Shakespeare has arrived in the moneyed world of New York, and I think he likes it. What particularly struck me about this film was some of the imagery and devices. Reflections are everywhere, not just in Hamlet's soliloquies: glass windows, mirrors, water, even the video screen. If we exist only in the eyes of others (J-P Sartre), then everything in this film is granted existence, even Hamlet's madness, because we see it through so many media and reflections. Hamlet's "play within a play" becomes a film, not something ephemeral, but a strip of celluloid that will last past his death, just as this play has survived so many centuries after Shakespeare's time.

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Strange interpretation of Hamlet

1/10
Author: lightwork1978 from USA
25 June 2006

I didn't like this movie for many reasons, there really wasn't any excitement in the film, Ethan Hawke's character seemed as if he were on Valium, hamlet's character was enraged, Ethan hawke wasn't. Although Ethan Hawke is my favorite actor and his presence on screen is mystical, but i didn't like this film. I preferred previous hamlet versions, i.e., Kenneth Branagh's hamlet and Laurence Olivier's. I've noticed that Diane venora likes to play Shakespearean characters, well, she graduated from the Juilliard school. I would have loved to seen Ethan hawke play a more enraged hamlet, which would have made the film more exciting to watch, and the other characters too. Well, it was a strange interpretation by Michael Almereyda. I wouldn't recommend this film.

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