Hamlet (July 19/01)
Perhaps spurred on by the enormous success of Baz Luhrmann's contemporary retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet has been brought back to life and this time, he's in our world.
Ethan Hawke stars as Hamlet, and he plays him as though he were the ultimate slacker. Sporting a disheveled look (complete with kicky ski hat), Hawke's Hamlet is less the vicious soldier that others have played him, and more of a confused 20-something rebel. The eclectic supporting cast includes Bill Murray (as the ill-fated Polonious), Liev Schreiber as Laertes, Julia Stiles as Ophelia, Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius, and Sam Shepard as the ghostly apparition of Hamlet's father.
Hamlet, at a running time of just under two hours, is an exceptionally truncated version of Shakespeare's most accessible play. Like Romeo and Juliet, this is a play that most post-teenagers can relate to. Hamlet is a character that doesn't know what to do with his life, and that stress is compounded by the fact that his father was murdered (and whose ghost is now haunting him).
With this contemporary adaptation of the play, writer/director Michael Almereyda has placed Hamlet in mostly familiar territory (the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy now takes place inside a Blockbuster video). And while he's mostly successful, he's omitted so many important sequences from the script (including Hamlet's meeting with a gravedigger and the entire Fortinbras subplot) that the movie just becomes confusing after a while.
But this is a good introduction to Hamlet. Consider it a primer for Kenneth Branagh's four and a half hour Hamlet opus.