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The One-Line Summary: Film student Hamlet (Hawke) is in turmoil over the sudden death of this father and the suspicious circumstances that led to his Uncle Claudius (MacLachlan) becoming the new CEO of Denmark Corporation, his father’s company, though it’s Claudius’ prompt marriage to his mother that is even more distressing, though he finds a bit of distraction in Olpheila (Stiles) but not enough to prevent him from thinking he might be a bit mad when his ghostly father starts to appear on the closed circuit TV monitors before showing up and telling his son that somethings rotten in Denmark.
The Two-Line Blurb: The setting for this adaptation of the classic tale of revenge is contemporary New York City with a strong emphasis on technology as integral story elements, such as cameras, Polaroids, and television, though all of the dialogue is lifted from the original play, with everyone speaking in Shakespearean prose. While the look of the film is sleek and effectively modern, there are stumbles with some casting (Schreiber and Stiles) and some unfortunate choices with modernizing the story, including a forced fencing duel (who duels anymore?) and a gun at a sword (épée) fight, though Hawke, a natural sort of sorrowful and pretentious-type actor (which is actually a compliment) holds his own throughout most of the action.
The Three-Line Set-up: Laertes (Schreiber) is the son of Polonius (Murray) and brother to Ophelia, and has noticed of late his sister’s affection toward the moody and spoiled Hamlet. Before he travels to school, he warns her to be wary as the brooding film student will surely break her heart. Polonius, a loyal servant of the new CEO and caring father for his son and daughter, has come to bid his boy a safe journey, but before he goes, offers some words of wisdom.
The Four-Line Moment: In what has to be the best scene in the film, director Michael Almereyda masterfully frames three actors in a two-level set with action shifting from foreground to background and characters in a beautiful synchronized dance that is remarkable to watch, especially when the entire scene features only Murray speaking, doting over Schreiber as they move about room. Murray is perfectly cast and delivers just the right modern flare to the dialogue, being the only real character in the film that seems in place. We see the weight of his years and experience, and it is a glimpse at what would come next in films like Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. Watch it a few times and notice how effortless Murray’s performance is, fluid and natural as opposed to the well-rehearsed movements of Schreiber hitting all his marks.
The Five-Word Review: Good, but Branagh‘s is better.