Following nearly 50 adaptations of Hamlet in the 20th century, director Michael Almereyda's is the first of the 21st century, with the young prince of Denmark the son of a dead businessman in contemporary New York
The President of the Denmark Corporation (Shepard) in New York City has just been found dead. His wife, Gertrude (Venora), has re-married the man suspected of the murder - the dead president's brother, Claudius (MacLachlan). Nobody is suffering more than her son Hamlet (Hawke). After encountering the ghost of his father, he learns that his uncle was responsible for the "murder most foul". He is not only determined to avenge his father but he is also in love with the enchanting but forbidden Ophelia (Stiles). And so begins a series of discoveries, lies, and loss that will destroy the lives of all of those involved.
Michael Almereyda, director of the fascinating vampire movie Nadja, adapts and directs this new version of Shakespeare's tragedy with inventiveness and style. Unlike Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, the screen isn't overwhelmed with colour and detail; instead, Almereyda modernises the play to a contemporary Manhattan, all stark corporate offices and wealthily-appointed skyscraper apartments, with fax machines, CCTV and laptops all incorporated to good effect. Hamlet himself sculks about in scruffy designer threads, shooting on his handheld video camera and soliliquising in Blockbuster video.
Almereyda pares the drama down to it's bloody core, leaving a potent tale of despair, madness and loss. His ensemble is highly effective: MacLachlan's Claudius is a bully and schemer whose guilt gradually catches up with him, Stiles' Ophelia movingly loses her mind after her father Polonious (Murray) is killed by Hamlet; Murray gives a surprising turn. A worthy addition to the ranks of cinematic Shakespeare adaptations.