What would Shakespeare do? Would he have written about a bunch of prep school kids running around on the basketball court and then going home to plot each other’s death?
Had Shakespeare known the popularity of basketball and urban dramas four centuries after his death, he just might have adapted his “Othello” into something very much like O.
The new thriller O (Lion’s Gate Films) seeks to reinvent the Shakespearean classic in a fresh and interesting manner. Under the direction of Tim Blake Nelson (Eye of God), the film succeeds on both points.
O centers on the jealousy of young basketball player Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett). It is Hugo’s mission to unravel the life of his talented teammate Odin James (Mekhi Phifer). The reasoning behind this malicious mischief is that Odin’s phenomenal playing detracts from the recognition of Hugo’s own contributions to the team. The film follows Hugo as he perpetrates a scheme to destroy both Odin’s reputation and his life.
Although the story is at times outrageously complex, the passion of the main characters remains visually intact. Despite the fact that O’s cast is comprised of largely unseasoned dramatic actors, each role is convincingly played.
Thrown into the mix of treachery and deceit is Odin’s girlfriend Desi Brable (Julia Stiles). Hugo works to turn Desi and Odin against each other through a number of particularly innovative, if unbelievable, plots.
Actor Martin Sheen (Lost & Found) makes an appearance as Hugo and Odin’s basketball coach. He plays an empathetic yet na?ve role in the film trying to help the main characters through their personal troubles.
Nelson does an outstanding job creating an innovative, effective modernization of a time-honored classic. Rather than relying on old text or past presentations, O is completely fresh, leaving the themes of “Othello” intact while spicing it up for new audiences.
Julia Stiles (Save the Last Dance) shines in O, proving for the first time that she is a versatile actor, not confined to the teenage pop-movie genre in which she has often immersed herself.
The release of O was delayed for almost two years because the original release date for the movie was only weeks after the Columbine school shooting.
O has found its way to the big screen. By employing age-old storytelling devices while still adding a bit of modern flair, the cast and crew of O create a Shakespearean adaptation that is both true to the original text and interesting enough to keep a teenage audience engrossed in a spectacularly told story.
O is in theaters Friday
This article appeared in the August 30, 2001 issue of the Hatchet.