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Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Martin Sheen, Rain Phoenix

Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson
Written by: Brad Kaaya
Produced by: Eric Gitter, Anthony Rhulen, Daniel Fried, Dan Fried

Distributor: Lions Gate Films

US: 31/08/01 UK: 13/09/02

A modern reworking of William Shakespeare's "Othello" set in an elite private school located deep in the American South, Mekhi Phifer portrays NBA hopeful Odin James, the only black student at the school. Odin not only enjoys widespread popularity with the students, he is dating Desi Brable (Julia Stiles), the daughter of the Dean of Palmetto Grove Academy (John Heard). Odin's best friend, Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett), drawn closely from Shakespeare's Iago, is a starting forward on the basketball team, and the son of Coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen). Hugo is bitterly envious of Odin and the attention Odin receives from the coach and everyone else at school. As the basketball season comes to a dramatic finish, conflict among the six friends escalates into irrevocable tragedy when Hugo executes a plan prompting Odin to throw away all that he cares about most - the woman he loves, his bright future, his very soul.



Dave Reviews Out Loud/ Ebert & Roeper
Entertainment Weekly/ Chicago Tribune
Village Voice/ Detroit Free Press
New York Post / San Fransico Gate
USA Today / Washington Post

Julia Stiles gets to see Mekhi Phifer's Awesome O

It's beginning to seem like any piece of classic literature is fair game to be adapted for an American high school setting. After a string of comedies like Clueless (Emma) and Ten Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew), we now get this seriously dark drama, based on Othello. Odin (Phifer), nickname O, is the star basketball player at a posh Charleston boarding school, where he happens to be the only black student. The coach (Sheen) treats him like a favoured son, which really angers his real son Hugo (Hartnett), who is sidelined on the team. As his jealousy brews, Hugo plots to bring O down a peg or two by spreading rumours that his best friend (Keegan) is having a fling with O's girlfriend Desi (Stiles). To accomplish this, he manipulated a simple-minded rich kid (Henson), as well as Desi's eager-to-please roommate (Phoenix). And as things heat up, Hugo becomes increasingly willing to take things to the next level.

So we all know that Othello ends with a mountain of bodies, so once we realise early on that the filmmakers here are sincere about Shakespeare's plotline, we know it will not end happily. And this is the most remarkable thing about this film: It's willingness to stay rooted in a serious story, fleshing out the characters and looking at awkward teen issues like racism, class snobbery, peer pressure, the way sports has overpowered the education system, and even gun control. This isn't to say the film is a humourless slog; it bristles with real life, passion, comedy, the give and take of teen relationships. In other words, it's such a good adaptation of the story that you almost felt it was written for this environment! The young cast is very good, even if they don't quite have the gravitas to convey the plot's darker elements. The heaviness--and the downbeat ending--mean it won't be a big box office hit (indeed it barely got released at all!). But it's important enough to live on as a cult classic video. J


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