Wittily and tragically updating the Shakespeare play to corporate New York, Michael Almereyda delivers his best picture to date (2000). The filmmaker was castigated for not doing his Shakespeare like Kenneth Brannagh, just as critics used to cite square and professional Lawrence Olivier as a reproach to Orson Welles. But like all of Almereyda's best movies this is gloriously amateurish, and the video screens serving as a kind of Greek chorus, a favorite device of his, bear special fruit in a postmodernist climate where “To be or not to be” is recited in the action section of a Blockbuster. Fortunately Almereyda has a terrific and game cast to score all his best points with—Ethan Hawke (better than you'd expect as the melancholy Dane), Bill Murray (Polonius), Kyle MacLachlan (Claudius), Diane Venora (Gertrude), Sam Shepard (the Ghost), Liev Schreiber (Laertes), among others—and he employs a keen, labyrinthine sense of place to box, subdivide, and confound them. It's fitting that the most existential of plays should function as a kind of test, but what's being tested isn't Shakespeare or Almereyda but the present moment: that is, the film asks how much we're capable of living in the world Shakespeare wrote about. Almereyda's respect for his audience and his queasiness about the present register with equal weight, reinventing the poetry in the most relevant ways possible. 111 min.
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