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"O" Movie Review

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Director Tim Blake Nelson and screenwriter Brad Kaaya had to wait two years for their collaborative effort to be released in theatres. "O" is a retelling/retooling of Shakespeare's Othello, with the action taking place on the basketball court at a private, southern, high school, in place of Othello's battlefield. The film's shooting was complete and editing was in process when the devastating shootings at Columbine High School took place. Due to the fictional violence in the film, and the real-life shootings that took place in Columbine, and at other high schools throughout the U.S., "O" was shelved and thought too hot to handle, until Lions Gate Films picked it up. The powers that be decided to hold off on the release until a more appropriate time could be determined for its theatrical debut, and a distribution date of August 31, 2001 was eventually settled on.

"O" is a violent, gripping, emotional tale of love, friendship, and betrayal. Mekhi Phifer stars as Odin, star basketball player and one of only a handful of African American students attending a private school in Charleston, South Carolina. His skills on the basketball court are unparalleled, and his ability to make friends is unrivaled. Odin has everything going for him including the love of a beautiful girl, Desi Brable (Julia Stiles), and a promising future in basketball. Echoing Othello's storyline, "O" has a jealous villain in the form of Odin's best friend, Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett), son of the basketball coach. Hugo is jealous of Odin's talent, and Odin's relationship with the coach (Hugo's father, played by Martin Sheen), their teammates, and Desi. Nothing Hugo does attracts one-tenth of the attention or praise that Coach Goulding bestows on his all-star player.

Hugo's jealousy manifests itself in his interactions with rich kid, Roger (Elden Henson), who becomes an unwitting pawn in Hugo's obsessive desire to destroy Odin - no matter what the cost. Under the guise of helping Odin, Hugo manipulates Odin into having serious misgivings about Desi, planting the seed that she's cheating on him with teammate, Michael Casio (Andrew Keegan). Hugo, with the help of Roger, concocts an elaborate plan to tear down Odin, destroy his relationship with Desi, and ruin his chances of becoming a professional ballplayer.

Realistic and jarring, "O" is a disturbing film that will no doubt leave audiences drained. There was plenty of buzz around this film prior to its scheduled release date. "O" stars a couple of the hottest young talents around - Josh Hartnett & Julia Stiles - and features "Soul Food's" Mekhi Phifer. The teaming of these stars with an intelligent script and outstanding direction provides "O" with the potential to be a sleeper hit (despite its R rating). Both Hartnett and Stiles have a large fan base who are sure to turn out in droves for this romantic drama. All of the actors do a fine job of conveying the angst of being teenagers, and display the appropriate rollercoaster of emotions necessary to adequately portray these characters. Josh Hartnett comes across particularly well as the villainous Hugo, but the film's top acting kudos go to Mekhi Phifer. He's outstanding as Odin - hard yet vulnerable, talented yet insecure.

Overall Grade: B

"O" is rated R for violence, a scene of strong sexuality, language and drug use.

Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Producers: Eric Gitter, Anthony Rhulen & Daniel Fried
Screenplay: Brad Kaaya
Director of Photography: Russell Lee Fine
Film Editor: Kate Sanford
Production Designer: Dina Goldman
Casting: Avy Kaufman
Costume Designer: Jill Ohanneson
Composer: Jeff Danna
Art Director: Jack Ballance

Odin James - Mekhi Phifer
Hugo Goulding - Josh Hartnett
Desi Brable - Julia Stiles
Michael Casio - Andrew Keegan
Emily - Rain Phoenix
Coach Duke Goulding - Martin Sheen
Roger - Elden Henson

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