O (2001)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Teen Movie, Tragedy  |   Release Date - Aug 31, 2001 (USA)  |   Run Time - 94 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Jason Clark

Tim Blake Nelson's searing modern update of Shakespeare's Othello drops the old tale into the present-day school system, attempting to make some sense out of the senselessness that pervades violent tendencies. Working from a complex, expertly detailed screenplay by promising newcomer Brad Kaaya, the filmmakers translate the story with ease without making it too earnest or preachy. The film's stance on the tough subject matter is surprisingly even-handed and the movie works on an overall intelligence level unparalleled in most teen dramas of late, especially those commenting on race relations, which O manages to incorporate into the proceedings far better than the 1995 Oliver Parker-Laurence Fishburne feature. As the teenage versions of Othello and Iago, Mekhi Phifer and Josh Hartnett give beautifully resonant performances, the former simultaneously conflicted and menacing, the latter using his naturally shifty persona to create a most effective villain, but one who manages to remain convincingly human. In yet another case of a studio not knowing what it had, the film gestated for nearly two years at Miramax Films (which sat on it to prevent controversy surrounding violence in schools, a big topic for the period) before Lions Gate Films finally agreed to distribute the feature in 2001.