What You Need To Know:
HAMLET uses some clever devices to update Shakespeare’s story. Ophelia’s father Polonius attaches a listening wire to her so he and Claudius can spy on Hamlet. Also, instead of using a play about his father’s murder to prick the uncle’s conscience, Hamlet uses a video. Such tricks cannot compensate, however, for Ethan Hawke’s lackluster performance as Hamlet and the movie’s cold atmosphere. Hawke sleepwalks through Hamlet’s famous soliloquy and looks extremely silly in a strange winter hat. Finally, although there are no fornication scenes between Ophelia and Hamlet like in other recent versions, the movie dilutes the story’s Christian worldview and increases the occult appearances of the father’s ghost
(C, O, AcapAcap, L, VVV, S, N, A, D, MM) Mild Christian worldview with occult device of a ghost talking to his son, plus anti-capitalist sentiments; 3 mild obscenities & 5 mild exclamatory profanities (“Oh, God”); four men die by gunshots with much blood shown after they are shot, men struggle, man punches man, mother drinks poison to save her son from murderer, woman imagines suicide by drowning, man contemplates suicide holding gun to his head, one implied suicide by drowning, & men fight with swords; implied sex between married couple, obscured image of couple together in video, man starts to stick hand under woman’s shirt, & young people dance close together in nightclub; image of classic nude painting; alcohol use, images of liquor & one scene set in nightclub; smoking; and, revenge themes.
Ethan Hawke is miscast as the melancholy prince in a new version of Shakespeare’s HAMLET.
Director Michael Almereyda places the story in modern-day New York. Instead of the country of Denmark, the setting is the Denmark Corporation, where the head of the company may have been murdered by his brother, Claudius. The dead man’s son, Hamlet, is upset that his widowed mother Gertrude has married Claudius soon after his father’s death. When a ghostly apparition looking like his father tells Hamlet that Claudius did in fact murder him, Hamlet tries to uncover the truth and to seek revenge and justice.
HAMLET uses some clever devices to update Shakespeare’s story to a modern setting. For instance, Ophelia’s father Polonius attaches a listening wire to her so he and Claudius can spy on Hamlet. Also, instead of using a play about his father’s murder to prick his uncle’s conscience, Hamlet uses a video. Such tricks cannot compensate, however, for Ethan Hawke’s lackluster performance as Hamlet. He sleepwalks through Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, for example, and looks extremely nerdy and silly in a strange winter hat he sometimes wears.
Another problem is the movie’s rather cold, sterile atmosphere. The first time viewers see Claudius and Hamlet’s mother is at a press conference. The affection between them lacks any warmth; it’s mostly for the benefit of the press. The rest of the movie also takes place in sterile settings. In his own cold rooms at the Elsinore Hotel, Hamlet broods as he watches TV and some goofy videos he has made. The videos are mostly of himself. In one of them, he contemplates suicide while silently holding a gun to his head. It probably will be hard, therefore, for many viewers to connect with any of these characters or their predicaments.
Finally, although there are no fornication scenes between Hamlet and Ophelia as in some recently filmed versions, the movie dilutes the story’s Christian worldview by not stressing the scene where Hamlet explains why he reluctantly decides not to kill Claudius while Claudius is praying to God for forgiveness. The movie also does this by increasing the occult appearances of the father’s ghost. In addition, an anti-capitalist subtext permeates the movie.
Thus, much of the pleasure from watching this HAMLET comes from seeing how it updates the story to a modern setting. Another joy is watching comic actor Bill Murray play the pompous and nosy, but good-natured, Polonius. He brings life to his scenes whereas Hawke and the rest of the cast present mostly “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Of course, the brilliance of Shakespeare’s work still manages to show through at times.