The distinction is simple: in William Shakespeare's comedies, everybody ends up married; in his tragedies, everybody ends up murdered. Othello falls into the later category. Its modern-day remake, O was finished around the same time as the Columbine tragedy, an unfortunate coincidence that postponed the movie's release several years.
Moorish Othello (most recently portrayed on the big screen by Laurence Fishburne) is presented here as Odin James (Mekhi Phifer), a black basketball star in the “court” of a predominantly white private school. Julia Stiles plays the object of his devotions, and Josh Hartnett takes on the devious Iago character, son of the basketball coach and filled with envy. He sets a convoluted conspiracy of deception and backstabbing against Odin that collapses into a bloody, bleak ending.
Shakespeare's plots are timeless, but his language is where the works really sing. O's adaptation only borrows rough structures, losing out on the original's magic. Brad Kaaya's new script never turns the tone epic. Issues that should be topical—high school violence, interracial relationships, drug abuse—come off as tired and rushed.