"O" is exactly the kind of movie teens will love but critics, parents, and most other adults will hate. The film pulls no punches in its treatment of race or portrayal of sex and sexuality and refrains from taking any sort of position or stance on the jealousy, rage, and violence that frame and move the story. Before the film was even over, I found myself wishing, praying even, that parents would see this film--this way, they could actually talk to their kids, and even their kid's friends, about the complex and compelling issues "O" touches.
The film is extremely intense: many characters are filled with deep anger, or other emotions, such as distrust, fear, and envy, which are potrayed in extremes by the director and actors. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but rather a very important thing to know about the film.
The cast is very strong and contains quite a few faces teen audiences will not only know but be able to relate to: Mekhi Pfieffer as the lead, "Odin," or "O," Julia Stiles as "Desi," his paramour; and Josh Hartnett as "Hugo," the malevolent mastermind behind whose jealousy drives the tragedy. If anything, the actors are too good: Hartnett's evocative performance is sure to set off debate on whether and how "O" might contribute to acts of teen violence, similar to Columbine. I think the potential value in the work is that it allows audiences to see, and potentially discuss, the relationships between gender, violence, and perceptions of "power" and how these elements relate to, influence, and are influenced by high school violence.
It would be a shame to dismiss "O" as being too violent, or as too dangerous because it may lead to copy-cat crimes--if screened and effectively discussed, "O" can potentially be a great tool in understanding our students' real experiences. It would be a shame to dismiss "O" as being a fluffy teen pic, because it's certainly not that either. It would be a shame to dismiss "O" as being just a bad adaption of a Shakespeare classic--Tim Blake Nelson and an excellent ensemble of young actors bring timeless material alive in a fresh, bold way.
Mekhi Pfieffer anchors the cast with a truly phenomenal performance. His star should shine brightly as a result of his passionate, compelling work here. Hartnett, as stated before, is also outstanding. Both men should be extremely proud of their work in this film.
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