Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2000. double A Films. Screen adaptation by Michael Almereyda, based on the play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by John de Borman. Produced by Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Gideon Ponte. Costume Design by Marco Cattoretti, Luca Mosca. Film Editing by Kristina Boden. Independent Spirit Awards 2000. National Board of Review Awards 2000.
Following the trend of placing Shakespeare in modern settings, this very good film moves his classic tale of the moody Dane to contemporary Manhattan. Ethan Hawke plays the title character, a video filmmaker who lives in the Hotel Elsinore (cheeky!) owned by the Denmark Corporation, once headed up by his father until his untimely death and now run by his uncle Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) who has also married Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Venora). Hamlet cannot bear the villainy he sees around him, and when he is visited by his father’s ghost (Sam Shepard) and told that he was murdered by his own brother, our hero decides to get revenge on all who have made his life miserable. Capturing the creepy atmosphere of the play while also fleshing out the characters beautifully, Michael Almereyda has come up with a film experiment that really works. The acting is top-notch with the exception of Julia Stiles as a painfully weak Ophelia, and the offbeat casting (including Bill Murray as Polonius) really pays off. The finale is a bit of a downer (and not in the usual way), with guns replacing swords and thus dampening some of the dramatic power, but otherwise it’s a great adaptation.