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movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Othello

Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Oliver Parker
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: December 1995
Genres: Drama, Romance, Suspense

*Also starring: Irene Jacob, Nathaniel Parker, Michael Maloney, Anna Patrick, Nicholas Farrell, Indra Ove, Michael Sheen, Andre Oumansky

Review by Steve Rhodes
1 star out of 4

First, let me confess that I am a big Shakespeare fan. I have loved most of the movies based on his plays, and Franco Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET and Kenneth Branagh's HENRY V are among my favorites of all the movies of any type that I've ever seen. Sad to say, that OTHELLO proves that, with the poor direction, even Shakespeare can be made boring. When I kept seeing the trailers for the movie, I wondered why there was little dialog shown. I now know why. First time director Oliver Parker has the actors read their lines slowly, softly, and without a hint of emotion. Shakespeare on Prozac. There is little to offend in the movie, but neither is there much to engage the audience.

I will not cover the story here other than to say that the cast consists of Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Irene Jacob as Desdemona, Kenneth Branagh as Iago, Nathaniel Parker as Cassio, and Michael Maloney as Roderigo. Most of you probably already know the story.

The surprise for me was the acting by Laurence Fishburne. I think he is awesome and have admired his work, especially WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT and SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER. He sleepwalks through OTHELLO. I am convinced that, with proper direction, he could have given a compelling and original rendition of Othello. Oliver Parker does not appear to have a clue as what he wants from his actors, and they all seem confused as to what to do. Only Kenneth Branagh attempts to breath a little life into his character, but in the end he gives the worse performance of his career. His soliloquies to the audience are vapid.

The director decided to have his actors attempt heavy Italian accents. The thick accents coupled with the low delivery and the Shakespearean language means it is very hard to follow the film. Take along a Cliff's Notes with you if you go so you can keep up with it. On the other hand, the lack of energy Parker gives the movie may put you to sleep before you get around to opening the pamphlet.

At one point, Iago says, "Pleasure and action make the hours seem short". And vice versa I thought to myself.

There are many small things wrong with the movie. Most of the costumes (Caroline Harris) are standard issue from the Shakespeare part of the costume department, but the armor that Othello wears in the beginning seems not to fit Fishburne and overall just looks silly.

The only thing done right in the movie is the cinematography (David Johnson). It is full of warm and realistic candlelit rooms. Granted it is nothing unusual, but it is pleasant to watch.

OTHELLO runs 2:00. It is rated R for brief nudity and a little sex. A PG-13 rating might have been more appropriate. The scenes getting it the R rating added little and without them, the movie could have been PG. This movie would be fine for anyone over ten, but I can not see why people would want to waste their time at it. If you must see Othello, then rent the Franco Zeffirelli directed film version of the opera with Placido Domingo staring in it. If you hate opera, then rent one of the other fine film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. I give this film one star because although it was boring, it was not painful.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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