Hamlet 2

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After Romeo + Juliet (not the Zeffirelli, the DiCaprio one), it seemed as though tough urban moroseness would be a sly way to reinvent the Bard’s classics, or at least not the musical way. I sincerely did not want to see this one, because, I mean, come on, Ethan Hawke? I do believe the real Hamlet would behave much as Hawke does in his private life (minus Uma) – hang out at Lovejoy’s with punk front-men and write superficially deep novels. To his credit, Hawke is the youngest Hamlet on film and therefore (on paper) the most age appropriate to take on the vaunted role of angry youth. But, I mean, come on, Ethan Hawke?

The language is the same, though clearly in its 112 minute brevity has cut some stuff. “Alas poor Yorick” and gravedigger fans, go rent Branagh’s 1996 version (the one with Robin Williams). I have to give this interpretation some credit – I better understood all the relationships and internal goings-on than in any other viewing, filmic or stage (sorry, M.D.). I’ve never been a huge fan of this play, but at least this time I could really follow it. And not a Branagh in sight! The Americans handled the tongue twisting poetry with aplomb, and, in the best cases, made it sound natural. Hold on to your Guatemalan Angst Caps, kids – Bill Murray is a brilliant Polonius. Did I see that coming? Heavens no. He managed to give Ophelia’s dad a while new twist, and I totally got it.

The film is plagued by overly natural camera work – actors blocking each other, etc., and some genuinely kick ass locations. It’s not so sly and artsy as Romeo + Juliet, but it somehow works better with a literal sword fight at the end. Oh, did I give anything away? Liev Schreiber as Laertes gave the role something I’d never noticed before: presence. However, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are truly dead. Steve Zahn is hysterically out of place as Rosie and Guidie is Uma Thurman’s heroin-chic brother. Sigh. Imagine Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. from Happy, Texas as he quoth: “He does confess he feels himself distracted/But from what cause he will by no means speak.” (It certainly is handy having the screenplay lying around the house.)

So, you’re asking, how did they do the play within the play, The Mouse-trap? This was very funny, worth seeing on its own – perhaps if the whole movie had been made like this, it would have been more mind-blowing. A small, accidental “quote” of the Sixth Sense pervades Hawke’s Hamlet – everything emotionally significant (I presume specifically for Hamlet but it didn’t seem to really be all that precise) is red. Considering the rest of the movie is a chilly Coltrane blue/black, it’s got to be on purpose.

When doing a classic, one must never reveal its tragic flaw – and the tragic flaw of Hamlet is what a big deal everyone makes about Hamlet being upset, when he damn well should be! Unfortunately, in this update, it just seems even more ludicrous that anyone would think the boy certifiable just because he’s depressed – never mind Ophelia drown herself because he’s too bummed to give her a lot of quality time.

Music by Carter Burwell: I noticed the music, but it’s the unfortunate “sucking up to the Academy” Burwell and not the glorious Coen Brothers scoremeister. For another example of this unseemly trend, see Exhibit A: Danny Elfman’s generic-yet-nominated score for Good Will Hunting.

So, why watch it on HBO? The Cliff’s Notes often help you appreciate the full work when you watch it again, so let this film be your Cliff’s Notes to the Branagh film. My companions and I were not in total agreement, but I found the presentation of the famous soliloquies mostly interestingly done – and a great deal of social commentary lurks (perhaps unwittingly) in the staging of “To be or not to be.” One word: “Action.” Cracks me up. Frankly, Bill Murray deserves your viewership, despite his wee role. But Miramax should not be fiscally encouraged to do more work along these lines by you watching it anywhere but in the comfort of your own home. Double feature it with Strange Brew and see if anything looks familiar. Do NOT watch it to avoid watching the full version!

Funny side detail: Hamlet and Ophelia have a Danish beer in one scene. If more of the movie had been like that, I would have really appreciated it.

MPAA Rating R-language inc. sexual references, brief nudity & drug content
Release date 8/27/08
Time in minutes 92
Director Andrew Fleming
Studio Focus Features