Directed by Michael Almereyda
Starring Ethan Hawke, Julia Stiles, Kyle MacLachlan, and Bill Murray
What a piece of work is man! One day you’re happily studying Prince 101 with a minor in Video Production at Ellsinore Community College, and next day, Daddy’s a ghost and mommy hops in bed with your evil Uncle Claudius. It’s New York, and waddayagonnadoaboutit? Hamlet (Hawke) drifts into that sort of gray area between sanity and public office, mooning around equally unstable Ophelia (Stiles). He’s convinced mommy offed daddy for his 401(k), and makes a short interpretive film about this sordid affair that wins a People’s Choice Award ant the New York Film Festival. The film is so honest, it makes Claudius’ eyebrows twitch, confirming his guilt. It’s a tragedy, and you know what THAT means – tourist will be shot on 42nd Street. First on the marble slab is the prattling Polonius, played by the deadly serious Bill Murray. In quick succession, Ophelia drowns in the 3 inch deep hotel lobby fountain, mommy (Diane Vernora) drinks some bad upstate vino, Hamlet and Leaertes die in a bizarre fencing accident (it was a 9mm foil, and they BOTH forgot their body armor), and good old Claudius dies in a drive by tax audit. Good night, sweet plot.
Is newer always better? Set in modern day New York, Hamlet carries a cell phone, plot points are faxed in, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern carry laptops, and all of the humor and word play Shakespeare wends into his work appear afresh in this highly relevant and highly entertaining redux. On the down side, product placement vies with corpse mongering. Hamlet’s ghostly dad appears in a Pepsi machine. The famous soliloquy is set in a Blockbuster store (To rent or not to rent… to suffer the outrageous arrows of late fees, or to return the film unwatched.. that’s the question.) More than anything, Hamlet is the most quotable of all plays. Here’s the final score – 16 drop dead quotes (“Get thee to a nunnery,” “Thy name is woman,” “Brevity is the soul of wit”) beat the 12 product placements (JVC, Amex, American Airlines.) Once again, Literature beats advertisement, and goes on to the semi finals.