Hamlet Review

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Hamlet returns from his studies following the death of his father and his mother's marriage to Uncle Claudius, who has assumed power. The ghost of Hamlet's father describes his 'murder most foul' by Claudius, and demands revenge. Fatefully, Hamlet hesitates, torn between self-doubt and resolve to consider the best course of action...


Experimental filmmaker Almereyda (known for his no-budget Pixelvision and the quirky vampire movie Nadja) assembles what is, on paper, a mouthwatering cast for his present-day interpretation of the most performed drama ever written. Transferred to Manhattan, Denmark is a corporation, Claudius the usurping CEO, Hamlet an aspiring filmmaker, and the courtiers at Elsinore Hotel have limos, lap-tops and camcorders. Modern dress Hamlets are nothing new, but Almereyda's visuals refer to pop video culture, reality TV, advertising and surveillance technology to emphasize the corruption, paranoia and betrayals, in a style aimed at accessible modern realism. He is helped considerably by cinematographer John de Borman in creating a darkly brooding effect.

Hawke makes the greatest speaking role in the English language a flat-voiced saddo who is a poster boy for angst. Hamlet's intelligence and imagination are disturbingly dulled - presumably the effect of his watching far too much TV. Stiles, as his dumped squeeze Ophelia, has been better elsewhere, and her interfering father, Polonius, is supposed to be a bore - but Murray forgets to give him a personality. Fitfully, there are humorous or well- judged touches that catch the intent: the ghost disappears into a Pepsi machine and Hamlet ponders, 'To be or not to be....' while pacing the action films aisle at Blockbuster Video. More often there are misfires: witness Hamlet's totally crap 'film within a film' with which he exposes Claudius' crime. Why, he couldn't even get Lottery funding with a showreel that pitiful.

Americans can do Shakespeare with vigour and verve - why oh why did nobody film Kevin Kline's '80s Hamlet? Then again, since Hamlet is forever fascinating as, in Peter Hall's words, "a mirror which gives back the reflection of the age that is contemplating it", perhaps it's appropriate he should be diminished to a wet, whining wannabe...

Those with most experience of playing Shakespeare to a crowd (Venora, Schreiber) are all too evident in their superiority, although Shepard is a pleasant surprise. Instead of being a companion to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo And Juliet, this can be filed under watsed opportunities.