This is a dreadful movie. Shakespeare is multi-facted enough to stand up to almost every possible kind of interpretation and adaptation. Almost. This version, using much of the original language but set in modern-day New York, is so poorly produced and directed that there would be serious doubt that the cast speaks English if it were not made up of such well- known and accomplished actors. So we have to blame the director since most of the time, it sounds as though they are repeating nonsense syllables that they have memorized. Diane Venora as Gertrude and Liev Shreiber as Laertes are the only ones who have moments of connection to the material. What we get from the others instead is tricks of juxtaposition, Elizabethan language amidst 21st century technology.
Remember the “to be or not to be” speech? Ethan Hawke, who wears an idiotic knitted ski cap through much of the movie and mopes around like a teenager who has been grounded, recites that speech while walking through the aisles at Blockbuster. He leaves the “get thee to a nunnery” speech for Ophelia on her answering machine. Polonius (Bill Murray) soliloquizes to a security camera. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern report back to Gertrude and Claudius by speakerphone and Hamlet lets them know he’s coming home by fax. And the play “to catch the conscience of the king” is a video Hamlet screens for his horrified family.
Teen fans of the performers who want to see this movie should go. Even in a monotone, the language and story are worthwhile, and it may inspire them to look at one of the better versions (especially those starring Mel Gibson and Laurence Olivier) on video. Families whose teenagers see this movie should talk about how to respond to injustice, the importance of communication, and how different performers and different times lead to different interpretations of the classics.
Families who enjoy this movie should see some of the other filmed versions, including the ones with Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branaugh, and Laurence Olivier.