Now if you understand Shakespeare, but have not read the play, you could follow the plot, and identify with some of the characters. Hamlet was played a bit meloncholy, but it fit. If you truely like dramas, then you can agree with me that when he put the gun to his head and said "To be or not to be," it was moving, at least I thought it was. Ophelia's sudden maddness seemed, well, sudden, but again, my boyfriend never shot my father either. The poloroid pictures perfectly captured the drowning with flowers, and yet kept it contemporary. The final scene brought tears to my eyes. I felt so much empathy for Hamlet, and while I knew it was a tragedy, I was completly shocked when he died.
Overall, this was one of the better modern-day Shakespearean plays I have seen.
Hawke was excellent as Hamlet. Julia Stiles was pretty unconvincing, as Ophelia, at first, but only got better as the movie progressed. Kyle Maclachlan is probably the most "Shakespearean" of the major actors, and he does not disappoint. Bill Murray is the weakest, but he fits in well.
All in all, the key to understanding this Hamlet is that it is a _movie._ It's not a play on tape, but a movie (or film, for pretentiphiles), and it takes advantage of all the capabilities of that versatile medium. It's also an adaption of the play, and a significant portion of important dialogue was cut, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, the plot is intact and the film has a hard-hitting emotional impact.
Don't expect a traditional and stale Hamlet, and you won't be disappointed.