First, let me confess that I am a big Shakespeare fan. I have
loved most of the movies based on his plays, and Franco Zeffirelli's
ROMEO AND JULIET and Kenneth Branagh's HENRY V are among my favorites
of all the movies of any type that I've ever seen. Sad to say, that
OTHELLO proves that, with the poor direction, even Shakespeare can be
made boring. When I kept seeing the trailers for the movie, I wondered
why there was little dialog shown. I now know why. First time
director Oliver Parker has the actors read their lines slowly, softly,
and without a hint of emotion. Shakespeare on Prozac. There is little
to offend in the movie, but neither is there much to engage the
I will not cover the story here other than to say that the cast
consists of Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Irene Jacob as Desdemona,
Kenneth Branagh as Iago, Nathaniel Parker as Cassio, and Michael
Maloney as Roderigo. Most of you probably already know the story.
The surprise for me was the acting by Laurence Fishburne. I think
he is awesome and have admired his work, especially WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO
DO WITH IT and SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER. He sleepwalks through
OTHELLO. I am convinced that, with proper direction, he could have
given a compelling and original rendition of Othello. Oliver Parker
does not appear to have a clue as what he wants from his actors, and
they all seem confused as to what to do. Only Kenneth Branagh attempts
to breath a little life into his character, but in the end he gives the
worse performance of his career. His soliloquies to the audience are
The director decided to have his actors attempt heavy Italian
accents. The thick accents coupled with the low delivery and the
Shakespearean language means it is very hard to follow the film. Take
along a Cliff's Notes with you if you go so you can keep up with it.
On the other hand, the lack of energy Parker gives the movie may put
you to sleep before you get around to opening the pamphlet.
At one point, Iago says, "Pleasure and action make the hours seem
short". And vice versa I thought to myself.
There are many small things wrong with the movie. Most of the
costumes (Caroline Harris) are standard issue from the Shakespeare part
of the costume department, but the armor that Othello wears in the
beginning seems not to fit Fishburne and overall just looks silly.
The only thing done right in the movie is the cinematography
(David Johnson). It is full of warm and realistic candlelit rooms.
Granted it is nothing unusual, but it is pleasant to watch.
OTHELLO runs 2:00. It is rated R for brief nudity and a little
sex. A PG-13 rating might have been more appropriate. The scenes
getting it the R rating added little and without them, the movie could
have been PG. This movie would be fine for anyone over ten, but I can
not see why people would want to waste their time at it. If you must
see Othello, then rent the Franco Zeffirelli directed film version of
the opera with Placido Domingo staring in it. If you hate opera, then
rent one of the other fine film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. I
give this film one star because although it was boring, it was not
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes