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Posts Tagged ‘Liev Schreiber’

Well, it worked for Baz Luhrmann, when he updated Romeo and Juliet to a modern day setting.  In this film, director Michael Almereyda updates Hamlet and shifts the action to corporate New York in 2000.  Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) is mourning the loss of his father, who was the CEO of The Denmark Corporation.  He believes that his father was in fact murdered by his Uncle Claudius (Kyle McLachlan) who has gone on to marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Verona) in distasteful haste, and is also the new CEO of the corporation.

Hamlet is determined to avenge his father’s death.  Meanwhile, he struggles with his own loose grip on sanity, as does his former girlfriend Ophelia (Julia Stiles).

I’m not completely sure what to make of this adaptation.  I like the idea – I like Shakespeare’s plays in their own settings, but I do like to see them in new and unfamiliar settings, which may entice other people to try them out.  This version comes in just shy of two hours, which is pretty short, considering that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play (the very faithful Kenneth Branagh adaptation is four hours long).  Certain parts have been cut out, but the essence of the story remains intact, and Shakespeare’s original language is used throughout, although not in its entirety.  The cast overall were strong – Ethan Hawke is an under-rated actor, and he captures Hamlet’s fine line between grief and insanity very well.  I also liked Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as Ophelia and Laertes respectively.  Kyle MacLachlan did a fine job as Claudius, while Diane Verona was excellent as Gertrude, and really captured the character.  Hamlet’s ‘friends’ (if you have seen the play, you will understand why I use the term loosely) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are played by Steve Zahn and Dechen Thurman – who is the brother of Ethan Hawke’s then wife Uma Thurman – and Zahn in particular shone in his role.  I also really liked Karl Geary as Horatio, Hamlet’s true friend until the end.

The cast was not perfect however – unfortunately, the usually excellent Bill Murray seemed lost as Polonius.  I’ve seen Murray in straight roles before and he is normally great in them, but I didn’t think he suited this particular character at all, and just seemed to be reading his lines with no inflection or meaning whatsoever.  It’s a shame – Polonius could have been great with a different actor, but overall this did not detract from my enjoyment of the film.

What did occur to me however was that if I didn’t know the story of Hamlet, I think I would have had trouble following what was happening.  It’s not the language; it was more that scenes seemed particularly disjointed from one another, and it seemed to me that it was jumping about a bit – first concentrating on this, then concentrating on that.  On that basis, I would definitely recommend that anyone planning on watching this familiarises themselves with the story first.

On a positive note, New York City is actually a very good backdrop for the story…aesthetically it looks perfect, and I also loved the music.  I’m not sure that I can forgive the famous To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy being recited in voice-over while our hero roams a Blockbuster video store.  There was probably some symbolism there, but it escaped me.

Overall, if you are looking for an adaptation of Hamlet, this is not the best one to start with.  However, if you are a fan of the play and want to see this version for that reason, you might find more to enjoy than you expect.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Michael Almereyda

Producers: Jason Blum, John Sloss, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Callum Greene

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Almereyda

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Verona, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn, Dechen Thurman

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Click here for my review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of Hamlet.

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No…not the vampire love story with Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattinson. This film boasts an impressive cast – Paul Newman is the lead (and still looking great at 73), with Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, James Garner, Liev Schreiber, Reese Witherspoon and Stockard Channing. Newman plays Harry Ross, a slightly down-at-heel retired private detective, who lives with his friends Jack and Catherine Ames (Hackman and Sarandon). When Jack, who is dying of cancer, asks Harry to do him a favour, Harry finds himself entering a murky world of betrayal and deceit, and uncovering some unsavory aspects of his friends’ past.

This film reminded me very much of the film noirs which were so popular during the 1940s and 1950s – in fact, I could almost imagine it in smoky black and white, with Humphrey Bogart starring! That is no criticism on my part; I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It has a mature (and I do mean mature, not old) cast, and a mature storyline. The acting is, as you would expect from such a stellar cast, impressive throughout, and Newman is perfect as the narrator and hero – of sorts – of the picture. He combines his natural charm, with world-weary emotion. You get the feeling that Ross is just plain tired of the world he inhabits, and he is just one of many characters in this film who are unsatisfied wtih their lives. Susan Sarandon has a timeless beauty, and looks stunning here, and Hackman….well, he’s just always terrific.

The plot has twists and turns, but it doesn’t get too complicated, which is a good thing. I like films that encourage the audience to think, but not films that are just too convoluted and end up being just plain confusing.

I would say that this is not the best film that any of the stars ever made, but if you are a fan of any of the cast, it is certainly worth a watch.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Robert Benton

Producers: Michael Hausman, Arlene Donovan, Scott Rudin, Scott Ferguson, David McGiffert

Writers: Robert Benton, Richard Russo

Main cast: Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Susan Sarandon, Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon, James Garner

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