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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Hamlet

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles
Director: Michael Almereyda
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: May 2000
Genre: Drama

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Review by Susan Granger
3½ stars out of 4

One of the elements that make Shakespeare's plays so amazing is that they can be adapted and interpreted in so many different ways. Filmmaker Michael Almereyda's contemporary version, set in corporate Manhattan, stars Ethan Hawke as the morose Hamlet, a scruffy, self-pitying Gen-X wannabe video-maker, who loathes his passionate mother Gertrude (Diane Venora) and shallow stepfather Claudius (Kyle McLachlan) for conspiring to murder his father. Paranoia is the theme, augmented by depression, despondency, and dementia - all running rampant at the Hotel Elsinore and the Denmark Corporation. Far better than Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo and Juliet," this visually stunning "Hamlet" is filled with intelligent, inventive performances - not only the leads but Liev Schreiber's furious Laertes, Julia Stiles's petulant East Village hippie Ophelia, Sam Shepard's mysteriously remote Ghost (who evaporates into a Pepsi machine) and, above all, Bill Murray's Polonius, advising "To thine ownself be true...." The soliloquies have become inner musings, except for "To be or not to be..." which Hamlet murmurs while browsing in the Action section of a Blockbuster video store. But there are some problems. First, you've got to be somewhat familiar with the Shakespeare's original version to appreciate the nuances of this unadorned one. Second, so much of the essential narrative has been eliminated that confusion overload occasionally occurs. And, third, the poetic passion and fear have been diluted by the onslaught of high-tech gadgetry. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Hamlet" is an audacious, admirable 8. It's a clever, consumer-oriented updating of a great tragedy.

Copyright 2000 Susan Granger

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