Movie Review: O

By Erik Petersen
Movie Magazine International
“O,” directed by Tim Blake Nelson, is a modern day retelling of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” An actor by trade Nelson was seen most recently in the wonderful epic, “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Here he tries his hand at directing and the results are pretty terrific. This film was made two years ago. However after the tragic shootings at Columbine High School the release was delayed. In that time the film’s young actors have become rising stars.

Starring Josh Hartnett, from “Pearl Harbor” as the evil and manipulative Hugo and Julia Stiles from “Save The Last Dance” as the ill-fated Desi, this film features some great young actors. But no one comes close to the charm, bravado and sadness portrayed by Mekhi Phifer as Odin James. If people recognize Mr. Phifer it would probably be from his role as the drug dealer in “Clockers” or from the HBO film “A Lesson Before Dying.” Here he plays a talented and wise young black man who believes he has a shot to succeed in an all white world, but is undermined by a trusted friend. The profound pain he is able to convey is just brutal. Martin Sheen also turns in a fantastic performance as a selfish basketball coach who sees Odin as his ticket to something better. He’s so blinded by ambition he fails to notice his own son, who’s slowly becoming a monster. Ultimately the performances are the reason this film stands out.

While the acting is great the directing is first rate, especially for a novice. The camera work alone helps bring real thrills to the basketball scenes. It’s intricate and fast paced. Throwing the viewer off balance with cockeyed angles and slow motion, it’s hypnotic.

Certainly one of the challenges that exist in the retelling of a classic is the fact that we know the story so well. And yet they were wise enough to leverage our familiarity with the story and use it. Even though we know “Othello”, you’re drawn in because you feel for the characters. They’re so well fleshed out with true dialogue and stunning performances you can’t bear to believe something so awful could happen to them. The tension is incredible.

The prep school where “O” is set is really refreshing. It has an authenticity to it that helps make the characters more believable, the story more real. You get a sense that this is the way a boarding school looks and the way the students might act. Unfortunately the climatic scene feels all too real for another, more sinister reason. Kids are shooting each other in school. It’s not just a film; this is our society up there on the screen. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
USA - 2001