Hamlet - 2000

Here's a movie you probably will never watch (although it has elements of plots we actually DO like...). Last night I watched a modern version of "Hamlet" done in contemporary times but with the Elizabethan language intact. I had the captions on and boy oh boy, did that ever help!

Ethan Hawke ("Training Day" and "Before Sunrise") does the honors in the lead and does NOT embarrass himself; Julia Stiles (the "Bourne" franchise and "Mona Lisa Smile") is an excellent Ophelia; Liev Schreiber ("The Manchurian Candidate" 2004, and "The Painted Veil") is equally good as her brother Laertes.

Denmark is no longer a country, but a massive New York-based corporation that is handed over to a murdered CEO's brother who has married the "grieving" widow within a month of his death. Sam Shepard is the ghost of the victim entreating his son to avenge his death. Hawke's Hamlet does his "To Be or Not To Be" speech in a Blockbuster's, Ophelia's mad scene is in the Guggenheim, etc., etc. It's like they followed one of our morning walks to select sites for key locations. Of course I didn't recognize everything, but it was enough. This is a much abridged version -- Kenneth Branagh's version is the only one to use the full text, as I believe this is one of Shakespeare's longest plays. I missed "Alas, poor Yorick..." and the cautionary advice to the actors about the dangers of over-acting.

As a veteran, I noted whole scenes that were deleted or were alluded to via snippets of black and white videos that Hawke is always watching on his hand-held portable gizmo. The "stage business" was clever and worked perfectly with the text and the characters. For example, when Pelonius, beautifully acted by Bill Murray ("Lost in Translation" and "Rushmore"), is cautioning his daughter about the "heat" of a young man's passion, he notices one of her sneakers is untied, so reaches down and ties it, never missing a word. He does his fatherly advising to Laertes while helping him pack, as he is leaving for Germany. Books, passport, shaving kit, clothes, all bundled into suitcases while chattering away, with Schreiber's expression understated and preoccupied, showing patient tolerance for Dad's verbosity. The play within a play is given as a production in the corporate meeting room and Hamlet has created a composite of old home movies of him, his mother and his father, plus scenes from old silent movies, and I think, some Monty Python.

Bill Murray does a notable job as chatty old Pelonius ("Neither a borrower nor a lender be..." and "To thine own self be true") and the use of limos, high-end residential buildings (no, I did not spot Trump Tower), airports, etc., made it interesting. I realize it is NOT the ultimate version -- I think Laurence Olivier's version gets the most stars, however it is too is abridged -- but for the New York locales and contemporary actors, I liked this one a lot. Take THAT Leonard Maltin!