Review by Michael Jacobson
Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, John Heard,
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2002
have to understand that what we have is beautiful.”
She deceived me. What makes you think she won't do the same thing to you?”
be known as the film that almost didn't make it out because of the Columbine
tragedy. The irony is, this movie
could NOT have been made even ten years ago.
Nobody would have believed it.
of course, it's horrifically believable.
Kids at young ages develop complexes, nurse grudges, and sometimes commit
horrible deeds. Lives that aren't
lost are forever ruined. Shakespeare
probably never could have seen his famed play Othello as being relevant
to the lives of students. Yet O does
not glamorize its material or try to make it too smart for its own good.
The voice of this picture is the voice of tragedy, and if one could argue
that Shakespeare's characters should have known better, what can you say about
a group of kids, struggling to find their place, dealing with hormonal and
chemical changes in their bodies, surrounded by a never ending onslaught of
drugs, booze, and unrelenting peer pressure…and perhaps most notably, where
gun laws are only as effective as far as people are willing to enforce them?
everyone will pay attention to me.” That
line, spoken by Hugo (Hartnett), is not so much a cry for understanding as it is
a cold, dark warning. Like the Iago
character on which he's based, he is a perfect sociopath.
Unlike Iago, however, we see some of what makes him that way.
plays high school basketball where his father is the coach (Sheen), and from the
start, we see school sports being taken way out of context as it often is.
Winning is all, not education or becoming better young men and women.
On this team, Odin James (Phifer) is the star.
He's the only black kid at this prep school, and was a highly recruited
young athlete. The coach has no
qualms about promoting Odin's star, even at the expense of his own son's
as he is known, is in love with the dean's daughter, Desi (Stiles).
She loves him back, making them the only interracial couple in the
school. The dean (Heard) seems less
than pleased, but mainly keeps his mouth shut…probably unable to deny what O
means to the school. O, therefore,
seems to have everything going for him…a beautiful, loving girlfriend, amazing
athletic talent, and friends.
one friend is jealous, and that's Hugo. Seeming
at first to be no better a schemer than Prince John in Much Ado About
Nothing, Hugo begins to chart the plan that will unravel many lives before
it's all over. With careful words
and a misplaced prop or two, Hugo begins to convince O that Desi has been seeing
his teammate Mike (Keegan) behind his back.
All of this plays with the surety of the original play…added for more
relevant measure are aspects like racism. I've
always hated the ‘n' word, but I don't think I've ever felt as stung by
it as when it is used at a most crucial time late in the story.
watch with an omniscient eye and a helplessness as well.
As much as we don't want to see events take their course, we can't
stop them. No matter how much we
like O or Desi, their intertwined fate has been sealed.
is a remarkable cast…Mekhi Phifer is electrifying as O, bringing to his
character more sympathy than I think I've ever felt for the original Othello.
In a way, he becomes helpless, too, dragging his feet towards a destiny
he can no longer control, but controls him instead.
His weakness is his inability to trust, and it grows rapidly into an
Achilles' heel that will be his downfall.
Stiles turns in another terrific performance as Desi. She's more than just an innocent wallflower and a means to
the end, which is how I sometimes viewed Desdamona. She is the story's other great tragic figure.
Josh Hartnett, who's star has been rising ever since The Virgin Suicides, adds
more depth and complexity to Hugo than has ever been seen in Iago.
When his father tells O in front of the whole school “I love you like
my own son”, you can see the pain in his eyes.
What he does is unforgivable, but to shut our eyes and pretend that Hugos
don't exist or are merely flukes is to lie to ourselves.
the kind of movie where one has to ask: was
it really necessary to shelve it for two years?
Even after the horrible events of Columbine, O should have been
perceived as what it was: an intelligent, thoughtful look at school violence as a very
real problem, and not some Massacre at Central High going for sleazy and
bloody entertainment value.
picture moved me to tears, and got me thinking over and over again, “If
only…if only…” And if we can
learn to ask that question ahead of time, who knows?
Maybe that will be the first step in assuring these kinds of events stay
on the movie screen and out of our schools and our lives.
NOTE: This film has one of
the best in-jokes I've heard in a while…when a teacher asks Hugo to name one
of Shakespeare's plays, he replies, “I thought he only wrote movies.”
of using dual layer technology for a quality widescreen presentation, Lions Gate
opted to make both it and a full frame version available on the same disc.
This was a mistake…despite anamorphic enhancement, there are some
noticeable compression artifacts here and there.
The darker the image, the more you can see grain and/or bits of
flickering on them. The overall
imagery is a tad soft, without the benefit of sharply rendered lines and detail. Coloring is generally very good (notice the school's colors
are red, white and blue?), but I can't help but feel if disc space hadn't
been wasted to accommodate a full frame transfer, we'd be looking at a much
higher quality presentation.
5.1 audio is a good mix, with most of the subwoofer action and dynamic range
coming from the rap music soundtrack. A
few crowd scenes (i.e., the games) bring both front and rear stages open for
some nice ambient effects, but without a lot of front to back crossover.
Dialogue renders well, and the overall audio is clean and crisply
double disc set boasts a nice extras package…Disc One features a commentary
track from director Tim Blake Nelson. It's
a good and detailed listen, as he describes everything from working with the
actors to the release difficulties, to the adaptation of Shakespeare's play
and more. Disc Two contains some
very short interview clips with Nelson, Phifer, Stiles and Hartnett, plus four
deleted scenes (given the quality of the dialogue in some of them, it's easy
to see why they were cut) with optional Nelson commentary, a theatrical trailer
plus several bonus ones, an analysis of the three main basketball scenes with
commentary, and finally, a restored full length presentation of the silent 1922
version of Othello, starring Oscar winner Emil Jannings in the title