Hamlet (2000)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy  |   Run Time - 240 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Daring innovations mark this 2001 production of Shakespeare's Hamlet, set in the U.S. South in the early 1900s. For example, Polonius (Roscoe Lee Browne) and his children, Ophelia (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and Laertes (Roger Guenveur Smith), are black; Rosencrantz (Michael Imperioli) and Guildenstern (Marcus Giamatti) are Mafia-style hit men; and the weather is always fair. But the biggest surprise of all is that the innovations succeed wonderfully without distorting the plot. To be sure, Shakespeare purists may balk at the extent of the changes, one of which has Ophelia ranting on a dinner table and another of which has Hamlet reciting "To be or not to be" while supine on the floor. But there can be no gainsaying that there is method in the madness of directors Campbell Scott, who also plays Hamlet brilliantly, and Eric Simonson. Their goal is to make Shakespeare highly relevant to modern audiences. Thus, the skin color of Polonius and his family introduces racial prejudice as a possible explanation for Polonius' subservience to Claudius, for Hamlet's rejection of Ophelia, and for Laertes' fierce hatred of Hamlet. In addition, the acting style -- in which the players recite their lines distinctly in ordinary conversational tones -- makes them seem like real people. In portraying King Claudius, Jamey Sheridan is particularly adept at this recitation style. Never does he overstate his lines or overplay his role. Blair Brown also performs with distinction as Queen Gertrude, making it easy to believe that a woman could remarry while her late husband is still warm in the grave. This production deserves a place on the all-time list of best Shakespeare productions.