The 2000 version of Shakespeare's Hamlet stars an appropriately young Ethan Hawke as the pouting prince of Denmark. His infamous "to be or not be" speech occurs in a Blockbuster Video with its signs proclaiming "Action!" It's a stroke of genius. Director Michael Almereyda nails this and many other delicious details, while preserving Shakespeare's original language. Denmark, for example, is a multinational corporation headquartered in Manhattan. The king's ghost is first spotted on the security camera of the family's luxury hotel Elsinore; Polonius communicates with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern via speaker phone and Powerbook. Indeed, technological mediation and its subsequent isolation is a recurring theme intelligently folded into this retelling, where faxes and consumer culture burst in upon soliloquies to good effect.
With the exception of Julia Stiles' blank Ophelia, the acting is consistently good. Bill Murray steals scenes as Polonius, armed with a hilarious deadpan and an actorly confidence that Hawke (Hamlet) sometimes lacks. Kyle MacLachlan (Claudius) usurps the throne with oily health, assisted by Diane Venora as the swiftly remarried Queen. The original language is enjoyable, but awkward scene-cutting means that the movie's end accelerates into a rushed resolution.
While recent retellings may have featured better line readings, Almereyda' version does wonders with its reinvention, and thus honors the timelessness-through-adaptability that makes Shakespeare so relevant.
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