Hamlet Goes Business Review

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Shakespeare's tale of greed, power and the seduction of stuff is transposed onto a modern backdrop of Finnish tycoonery.


A severe disappointment from Finland’s maverick director Aki Kaurismaki, Hamlet Goes Business shows few signs of the directorial skills on display in last year’s highly-acclaimed Ariel (made after this poor effort). Picking on the carcass of what a movie mogul would perhaps call the William Shakespeare original, Hamlet is here portrayed as a thoroughly modern tycoon, running an impressive industrial and banking empire from a vast building in contemporary Finland. The plot, such as it is, roughly follows the basic outline of the Bard’s work, departing from it only whenever Kaurismaki feels like it, while very occasionally throwing in a line of dialogue from the original text. Aside from this rather bizarre approach, the major weakness in Hamlet Goes Business is that Kaurismaki destroys his basic model without either illuminating it or creating anything remotely of interest to put in its place. Hamlet is fat, cunning, stupid and loathsome, Ophelia is a chinless bore, Gertrude a passive suburban housewife. Laertes, here, for some inexplicable reason called Lauri Polonius, is a pathetic neurotic, while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are parody thugs. Indeed, the only halfway successful transposition is performed on the character of Claudius, reinvented here as a ruthlessly ambitious businessman — and then renamed Klaus.

Everybody is thoroughly unpleasant, and their stories unfold without any apparent purpose or meaning as what is perhaps the world’s most famous play is brought to its knees, saved from complete disaster only by some terrific photography and a great soundtrack taking in everything from rockabilly to Tchaikovsky. The preceding short, Kitchen Sink, is as original, funny and absorbing as the main feature is downright daft.

Utterly without redeeming features. If it were possible to earn zero stars, here is a contender for such a score.