Less is Moor

A feeble version of Othello is a red-eyed monstrosity

Perhaps most remarkably, Parker's choice to sex up the story could have added immeasurably to the palpable racism of Othello. But after hinting that he will exploit that theme, he drops it; political correctness seems to have doomed artists to apologize for their points of view before even putting them forth.

This isn't an interpretation of the play so much as a slavish reading of it; the Lerner-Loewe musical Camelot had more to say about adultery than this version of Othello.

Fishburne is a gifted actor who has sometimes been brilliant (What's Love Got to Do With It), sometimes heavy-handed (Boyz N the Hood). His performance here never overcomes Parker's lumbering take on Othello as motivated by simple anger; there's no subtext to his performance (or the movie itself), making it feel more like scenes leading up to Nicole Brown's murder than a genuine Shakespearean tragedy. (Fishburne's accent, like those of many of the actors in the film, is a comical, unsettling thing, part Scottish brogue, part Boston aristocracy, all out of place.)

Irene Jacob is especially colorless as Desdemona, forever searching for some emotional attitude to accompany her lines. When she faces the red-eyed anger of Othello, there's no sense of actual fear to her performance.

Only Branagh has fun with his part, playing Iago as a thin-lipped serpent, both droll and sarcastic, seemingly better than everyone around him. On that score he is correct--Branagh is alone among the performers in bringing across an immediacy to the movie--but he's left with the impossible position of shouldering responsibility for the entire film, which never works.

Parker's adaptation is more noteworthy for what it is missing that what it has. You feel he thought that by emphasizing the surface emotions (anger and jealousy) he'd make it more accessible--another O.J. Simpson story, maybe--but the reverse is true. The film is monstrously boring precisely because there are no levels to the characters, no grander vision of their weaknesses. By flattening out the profound aspects of the story, this version of Othello ultimately recalls another Shakespeare play, Macbeth: "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Othello. Columbia Pictures. Laurence Fishburne, Irene Jacob, Kenneth Branagh, Nathaniel Parker. Adapted for the screen and directed by Oliver Parker. Opens Dec. 29.

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