Hamlet

1990, Movie, PG, 135 mins

Review

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Zeffirelli's third Shakesperean adaptation shows, more than anything else, that Mel Gibson, macho action hero of the MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON films, can act--though his dueling scenes are still his best moments. Zeffirelli's production is neither high art nor lowbrow pandering, but something in between. This is "Hamlet for the 90s," according to the director, but we can't think of any exact reason why. With much of the text pruned, the pace quickened, and the action streamlined, the film offers what amounts to a comic book intro to Shakespeare's classic, retaining few of the play's psychological complexities. Like nouvelle cuisine, there's not as much on the plate, but what's there looks good.

Unlike the cerebrally tormented, noble protagonist presented in most versions of Hamlet, including Laurence Olivier's 1948 Oscar winner, Zeffirelli's film gives us a simpler central character. Gibson's Hamlet doesn't soar; his speeches are uttered in a straightforward manner defined by action rather than poetry; it's a workmanlike job. Zeffirelli doesn't merely settle for altering the main character, however; he also lessens the importance of the role to some degree, allowing the work to become much more of an ensemble piece than it normally is.

Around Gibson, the director has gathered a stellar international cast who, for better or worse, have added a new perspective to the play. The ghost of Hamlet's father appears on stage rather than as simply a voiceover, and he is powerfully portrayed by Paul Scofield. Close has some good moments as Gertrude, and Bates is an expert Claudius. But Holm and Bonham Carter are crashing bores as Polonius and Ophelia. leave a comment

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