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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Sunday July 12, 2020 

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At an exclusive southern private school, the basketball program is the schoolís pride and joy. The team itself has been bolstered by the arrival of Odin James, known simply as O (Mekhi Phier), the only black student at the all-white college. Odinís play outshines the other team members, including that of Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett). Hugo, the son of coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen), becomes embittered, not only by Odinís play, but also by Odinís relationship with his father. Odin is dating Desi (Julia Stiles), the principalís daughter. Hugo plants a seed of doubt in Odinís head, suggesting that Desi is seeing other students, but outwardly maintains heís Odinís best friend.

Review by David Edwards:
This film has finally been released here after a long delay. It was actually made in 1999, but events in the US and elsewhere had caused it to be shelved. This has mostly been a knee-jerk reaction to one particular scene near the end; but as is often the case with knee-jerk reactions, it missed the whole point of the film. O is a modern updating of Shakespeareís Othello. It follows other recent Shakespearean adaptations like Romeo + Juliet; although its closest cousin is probably 10 Things I Hate About You (adapted from The Taming of the Shrew). The characters donít speak in iambic pentameter, Iím pleased to say, but director Tim Blake Nelson manages to retain the essence of the Bardís tale.

Jealousy, infidelity, wrath and madness Ė theyíre all here, belied by the stately private school setting. And although he takes a couple of missteps along the way, Blake Nelson makes a powerful statement with this film. What makes O a success is that it deals with real emotions and problems. It doesnít patronise its audience with platitudes and easy fixes. This is serious stuff, filled with the raw passions that are part of everyoneís life, although they may occasionally be more pronounced in teenagers. O isnít a ďteenĒ movie in the conventional sense.

This is a truthful and potent examination of the depths to which humans can sink. It remains largely truthful to Shakespeareís blueprint. Odin (Othello) is a strong man, a leader; but fatally flawed by his jealousy. Hugo (Iago) is a cruel manipulator, a racist and determined to destroy the man he sees as his rival. Desi (Desdemona) loves Odin and is faithful to him, but is the vehicle by which Hugoís plan will be put into action. One new element introduced by scriptwriter Brad Kaaya is the coach, who provides the teenage antagonist with the motivation to set his strategy in train. Mehki Phier is outstanding as Odin. He plays the character with just the right blend of dignity and insecurity, living up to the promise he showed in Clockers. Julia Stiles plays Desi with the kind of assurance weíve come to expect from her, although as in Othello itself, her character is not given much room to develop. Itís Josh Hartnett, however, who steals the show. A far cry from his days on Dawsonís Creek, he injects such venom into Hugo, you can just about smell the bile as he inveigles his way into Odinís life in order to destroy it.

This is an assured film from Tim Blake Nelson (his third as a director), one that puts Shakespeareís play into a contemporary and entirely relevant context. O retains Othelloís potent themes and presents them in a way that provides a salutary lesson for both teens and adults.

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O (MA)

CAST: Mehki Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Elden Henson

DIRECTOR: Tim Blake Nelson

PRODUCER: Daniel Fried, Eric Gitter, Anthony Rhulen

SCRIPT: Brad Kaaya (based on William Shakespeare's Othello)


EDITOR: Kate Sanford

MUSIC: Jeff Danna


RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes



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