With his stunning new vision of the most revered of Shakespeare's plays, director Michael Almereyda has effectively transposed many of the enduring themes of that classic work to our contemporary hi-tech era. Even if you are not very familiar with Shakespeare's plays or have always been confounded by his verse, one can still appreciate this film for the tremendously inventive ways by which Almereyda has interpreted the core scenes of Hamlet in the context of corporate America. His visually striking translation of scenes like Ophelia's drowning and Hamlet's famous `to be or not to be' soliloquy are a delight and true brain candy. The cast is all around superb, with the classically delivered lines from actors Liev Schreiber (Laertes) and Sam Shepard (Ghost) nicely counterbalancing the very contemporary style of delivery from Ethan Hawk (Hamlet), Bill Murray (Polonius), and Julia Stiles (Ophelia).
There will no doubt be much comparison between this film and Baz Luhrmann's flashy modern remake of Romeo and Juliet. However, whereas Luhrmann's film ultimately fails in going beyond the boundaries of its visually striking presentation, Almereyda's Hamlet proves to be far more than a mere spectacle for the senses. In fact, this is the serious flaw that plagues most of the films coming from young, talented independent filmmakers these days: all style, no substance. Well, this Hamlet has both. By setting the film deep in the heart of a very real and very modern steel and concrete American jungle like New York City, which is infused with the relics of the mass media and cold capitalistic consumerism, Almereyda powerfully enhances for the audience the sense of the desolation of his characters that results from urban isolation. This is a theme that Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai has so masterfully examined with his films Fallen Angels and Chungking Express. In Hamlet, we get a powerful dose of both Kar-Wai's visual flair and the sensitive, crumbling heart that it sheathes.
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