DVD review: ‘O’
Shakespeare juiced with hip-hop. The Bard trash-talking basketball. Rap replacing iambic pentameter.
Those were some of the audacious, compelling and dramatically daring elements that fueled “O,” director Tim Blake Nelson’s smart, contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s “Othello” when it was released in 2001. Now the film gets a well-deserved encore on DVD in a new Miramax Classics edition.
Originally completed in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, Nelson’s tough film languished two years on the shelf as skittish studio honchos worried over its political ramifications. Finally, it was released theatrically by Lions Gate, whose execs recognized the picture’s mission of seriously examining teen violence, not of exploiting it.
Written by Brad Kaaya in a fashion that replaces the Bard’s lyrical language with modern slang and the earthy, pulsing rhythms of hip-hop, “O” adroitly moves the action from the ancient battlefields of Cyprus to the basketball courts of an elite, predominantly white prep school in South Carolina. And the character of Othello becomes Odin James (Mekhi Phifer), an African-American hard-court general leading the school’s basketball team toward a state championship.
Desdemona becomes Desi (Julia Stiles), the dean’s beautiful daughter and Odin’s girlfriend, and Iago is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), the coach’s steroid-pumped son, wracked with jealously over Odin’s favored status. It’s he who deviously plants seeds of doubt that fester in Odin’s mind, leading them all to a tragically violent fate.
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