No, Josh Hartnett has not turned ganglier since Michael Bay had his way with him. Completed in 1998, O was dropped by Miramax after the Columbine massacre and did the studio shuffle before being picked up by Lions Gate Films. Shakespeare’s Othello meets Columbine in this messy little teen drama. Though the film’s exposition is lax and its characters curiously unmotivated, the film’s frenzied final half is remarkably urgent, so much so that you may forget the Bard’s influence and the somewhat facile racial baiting. Director Tim Blake Nelson pays meaningless attention to Hugo Goulding’s (Hartnett) metaphysical connection to the high school mascot, a hawk that flies freely during particularly intense basketball games. The boy’s crusade against Odin (Mekhi Phifer) is a grudge over not having received the school’s MVP award. The revenge: snag Odin’s girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles) in her adult plumage. Nelson deliriously evokes Bergman during one particularly chilling dinner-table conversation that pits Hugo and father/coach (Martin Sheen) via some particularly sharp 90-degree angles. Shakespeare’s family dramas remain the same though all discussions of race have been dutifully modernized: Odin and Desi discuss the politics of the word “nigger” while Hugo hopes to bring Odin down via tactics that evoke black slavery. O is still relevant but one can only wonder how much more effective it could have been had it been released immediately after the Columbine disaster.
- Tim Blake Nelson
- Brad Kaaya
- Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, Martin Sheen, Elden Henson, Rain Phoenix
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