Release Date: February 19, 2002
Run Time: approximately 94 minutes
Ten-second Rundown: Othello re-set on a prep school basketball team.
Director Tim Blake Nelson
Cast and Crew Interviews
of Basketball Scenes
"classic film" version of Othello
Hugo takes his confidante Roger aside and, in grand Shakespearean
tradition, lays out everything he's going to do.
Tech Specs: Anamorphic
Widescreen (Aspect Ratio 1.85:1) and Full-frame, English 5.1 Surround,
English and Spanish Subtitles.
You hear this
hype a lot, but "O" really was one of the most controversial
films of 2001, and would have been in 2000 had original backers Miramax
had the courage to release it. Unfortunately for this excellent film,
just as it was going through the editing process, two teenagers opened
fire on Columbine High School, and the studio grew increasingly skittish.
does discuss the problems of teen-age rage, classism, and ends with
a lot of gunplay, it does so with logic and a growing sense of dread
and outrage. But of course, the concept of being able to actually confront
and deal with these issues through art is a difficult one for American
audiences to accept, and Miramax dumped the film. Thankfully for the
film, the somewhat smaller distributor Lion's Gate Films picked up "O"
and released it last September, more than a year after its initial release
If you missed
it, now you have the chance, as Lion's Gate releases it on DVD today.
Blake Nelson and screenwriter Brad Kaaya have skillfully updated Shakespeare's
Othello for the high school set. Though it may sound like a
stupid idea, it works.
Odin "O" James (Mekhi Phifer) has been brought in to Palmetto Grove
Preparatory to lead their Hawks to victory. As should be expected,
he quickly becomes a star, eclipsing Hugo (Josh Hartnett), son of
the coach (Martin Sheen). In an other-wise all-white school, O has
found his niche, and even begun a relationship with Desi (Julia Stiles),
who happens to be the dean's daughter. Out of such stuff does tragedy
The film neatly
follows Shakespeare's plot, as Hugo weaves his plan to get anonymous
revenge on O, all the while buddying up to him. Many scenes in Kaaya's
script even retain a sense of the poetry of the original, though with
a lot more cursing. (There are scenes where Hartnett, in his best
role ever, even maintains Shakespeare's rhythms in performance.)
Don't fear, however,
that this is a literature class. As a film, "O" is vital, gripping,
and wonder of wonders, actually has something to say about modern
high school life. It may be ugly, but it feels true.
For those reasons,
the DVD release will be worth your while. Of course, you can't just
release a controversial film on its own; there have to be extras,
and kudos go to Lion's Gate for trying.
Tim Blake Nelson's
commentary can be considered "the plot for dummies," and may make
a good case from laying off this standard feature. As an artist, he
has created a great work, and it needs to be allowed to speak for
itself. As a commentator, he ends up spelling everything out, oversimplifying
and ruining some of the power of his film.
Where the commentary
does get interesting is on the second disc, over the deleted scenes
and the isolated basketball scenes. Nelson and his Director of Photography,
Russell Lee Fine, did a great job capturing the vibe of high school
basketball, and having them discuss the methods used separate from
the film is a nice touch. Although I have never actually seen a crowd
swarm onto the court after the game-winning shot the rest of the basketball
scenes make the cliché forgivable.
Seeing and hearing
the leads discuss the film and its controversial elements is a mixed
bag. No one doubts their intelligence. Stiles, in particular, seems
to have read the original play a few times. But Hartnett looks awkward
and uncomfortable, and Phifer just doesn't have a lot to say. It's
good to see Nelson on camera, so we can wipe away images of him as
the yokel in O, Brother Where Art Thou?.
Lion's Gate has included a restored version of Othello, which
would make this a great teaching tool for high school AP English.
They play coy on the cover copy, neglecting to mention which
restored film it is. That of Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, or Paul
Robeson? Nope. It's a German silent film starring Emil Jannings as
The Moor of Venice. For film geeks, it's kind of cool, but boy, has
it not worn well.
Ignore the second
disc if you must. Get the package, bask in the controversy, and maybe
nod your head that human nature hasn't changed much in the past 500