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Perhaps the least important thing about this latest film version of Shakespeare's masterpiece is its setting in modern-day New York. Yes, such locales as the Guggenheim Museum are used wittily; answering machines and faxes are logically worked into the plot; and it was both inspired and entirely appropriate to make the prince of Denmark a moody, introspective filmmaker whose avant-garde collages provide the context for some of his famous monologues. All of which would be so much pleasantly humorous eye-candy if it didn't come hand in hand with a sympathy for and understanding of this remarkable cast of characters. For that, ultimately, is what makes Michael Almereyda's Hamlet such a delight to watch. Forget that the immortal rumination on suicide is placed in a Blockbuster Video aisle and notice instead how Ethan Hawke's own youthful, callow arrogance makes Hamlet's vacillations believable. And how the comical but infantilizing way Bill Murray's Polonius dotes upon his daughter Ophelia (Julia Stiles)--and her mute acceptance of his attentions--lead her to thoughts of a watery grave even before her bout of madness. And also notice how much Claudius truly does love Gertrude (when gazing at her, Kyle MacLachlan's face relaxes from its usual plasticity) and how Sam Shepard's ghost is less vengeful or tortured than stiffened by remorse. These are the shining moments of invention in Almereyda's bold updating of the play, and they are why this will be a film to watch and enjoy long after its setting has made it as much a period piece as Olivier's adaptation, with its broodingly lit castle, or Branagh's, with its gleaming 19th-century court. --Bruce Reid
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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.
Of the professional performances I've seen, Olivier's 1948 film stands very high (I think everyone in my ninth grade class saw it at least twice) and so does Derek Jacobi's on PBS. The most fun was Anna Russell's hilarious mock-Verdi opera, HAMLETTO, or PROSCIUTTINO, with its Rosencrantz and Guildenstern patter-song. Russell's pastiche was more to my taste than Mel Gibson's interpretation. That one was a banal disaster, as I should have expected--a waste of time and money. My lifelong favorite has been the 1960s New York City stage production starring Richard Burton, who gave a new dimension to Hamlet's motivation. Oh, how I wish that one had been filmed.
There've been several modern-dress stage interpretations which I'd liked, so I was intrigued by the reports that this one was set in near-future New York City, not in Denmark (the country) but in Denmark (the corporation). The unusual casting also fascinated me, so I paid to see it in a theater instead of renting it. What an experience it turned out to be! If Amazon had a 4.5 rating, that's how I'd rate this HAMLET.Read more ›
For anyone who has read and understood the play, Hamlet is a complicated character. He is clever, educated, and in many parts pf the play utterly hilarious. Hamlet is in some sense troubled, but he is not mad. He pretends to be; teasing Polonius, tricking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, trying the patience of his mother and uncle. This is what makes him so memorable. BUT Hawke's performance loses this. His hamlet is forever moping, sullen and melancholy. He drones lines like 'My wits diseased' with the same monotone seen throughout the film, when this line is supposed to be sarcastic, mock-crazy. Hawke makes Hamlet into the stereotypical suicidal boring teen. Whether this is due to poor direction or the fact that Hawke doesn't get Shakespeare, I dont know. But it ruins the play. It ruins all the propects of a terrific movie. I mean the cast could have been great. But somehow, the idea flopped. My advice: stick to Mel Gibson and Kenneth Branagh, or better still, see a stage version. It will bemuch more rewarding.
Most recent customer reviews
A terrific updating, using Shakespeare's language, but set in modern
corporate New York City. Beautifully shot, on a shockingly low budget
for it's look, with amazing use... Read more
There have been a number of brilliant adaptations of Shakespeare in the past few years which has updated and modernized the settings, but this isn't one of them. Read morePublished on July 11 2004 by Gus the Goldfish
I've seen most versions of Hamlet available on VHS or DVD, and this is absolutely the worst. One reveiwer here has pointed out that the cast's inability to handle the language is... Read morePublished on June 16 2004 by Christopher M. Adderley
This version is an interesting idea, at best. Instead of recieving letters, in this modern-day world they receive faxes. Read morePublished on March 10 2004 by D. Knouse
No doubt that Shakespeare has rolled in his grave 'cause of this film. It sickens me to see the bastardization of another great piece of literature by Shakespeare (the other is the... Read morePublished on Feb. 27 2004
When I first began watching this movie it was a let down, I had been expecting so much more. I almost shut it off but my husband convinced me to keep watching and.... Read morePublished on Dec 16 2003
If you are a Shakespeare purist, you are going to hate this movie. There are no theatrical extremes or classical cliches. Read morePublished on Oct. 22 2003 by Mathias
I think that many of the other reviewers have hit the nail on the head. So I won't bore you with the small points. Read morePublished on Sept. 16 2003