Director Tim Blake Nelson sets Shakespeare’s “Othello” in a modern day private high school and the result is a dark, somber teen tragedy. Mekhi Phifer (CLOCKERS) stars as Odin James, an African American star basketball player at the otherwise all-white school. The coach of the team (Martin Sheen) loves Odin like a son, which causes his real son Hugo (Josh Hartnett) to squirm with jealousy and plan an elaborate revenge. Julia Stiles (a modern dress Shakespeare regular, having also co-starred in HAMLET and TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) is Desi, the virginal daughter of the dean, with whom Odin is in love. The ensuing outburst of tragic teen violence is a shocking denouement that elevates the already dangerous mood of the film to fully-fledged terror.
Because of the intense violence in the film, it was shelved for years by a nervous Miramax in the wake of the real-life Columbine high school massacre. Finally, it was picked up by Lion’s Gate Films. Upon viewing the film, such worry seems needless, as the film does nothing to glorify the violence it depicts. It explores themes of class, race, and all-consuming jealousy. Shakespeare’s original dialogue is abandoned in favour of hip-hop-flavoured modern language, but the tale’s timeless relevance remains unaltered.