Hollywood’s latest fix involves adapting great works of literature and using them to exploit teenagers in a modern day setting.
Tim Blake Nelson’s contemporary retelling of “Othello,” titled “O,” delivers another example of this newfound genre by haphazardly attempting to examine the problems of “normal” high schoolers.
Unfortunately, it falls short of any new revelation about today’s youth.
At a prestigious South Carolina boarding school, Odin James (Mekhi Phifer, Shaft), the sole African American attending the school, has everything a high school student could want. He’s a star athlete and enjoys widespread popularity, including dating the headmaster’s daughter, Desi Brable (Julia Stiles, Save the Last Dance).
Once Odin receives the coveted MVP Award for leading his basketball team to the playoffs, we become aware of Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett, Pearl Harbor), Odin’s fellow teammate and friend. Hugo is quite envious of the attention Odin receives from students, faculty, and even his own father, Coach Duke Goulding (Martin Sheen, “The West Wing”). Out of frustration and jealousy, Hugo creates a plot to tear down Odin in every area. He coyly manipulates everyone for his cause, especially Odin, who is now in a world of self-doubt and pity. Once confident and fearless, he now questions the faithfulness of his friends and the fidelity of his girlfriend.
An emotional wreck, Odin believes that Hugo is his only friend when he is just the opposite. Hugo convinces the troubled teen to follow a “flawless plan” to end his troubles, and in turn, throw away all that he has worked to achieve. As the basketball season comes to a close, Hugo’s deeds culminate into a dramatic and devastating end.
Keeping with the Shakespearean tradition of “Othello,” Hugo (“Othello”‘s Iago), the real protagonist in the story, is the most dynamic and intriguing character. Through the actions of others, the audience learns even more about Hugo’s motivations and insecurities.
It’s hard to view this film and accept the images of teenagers and their situations that are portrayed on screen. Although some moments are believable, others are definitely not. It will be quite hard for many viewers to relate to rich prep school kids.
Like all films, “O” has its political and social motives. Exploring a variety of issues, interracial relationships, racism, teen sex and violence, it seeks to give insight into the teenage world. Unfortunately, the commentary doesn’t take the audience anywhere it hasn’t been before.