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O: Special Edition

For all the controversy that surrounded O in the wake of the tragic shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School, director Tim Blake Nelson's update of Shakespeare's Othello is less about violence than it is the intensity of teenage emotions. It's jealousy that motivates the sullen Hugo (Josh Hartnett, playing the Iago role) to manipulate and betray his "friend" and basketball teammate Odin (Mekhi Phifer); it's love and doubt and suspicion that push O over the edge into brutality. When the movie opens, Odin and Hugo are both students at the prestigious Palmetto school in South Carolina — O, the only African American on campus, is the star of the basketball team and the devoted boyfriend of the beautiful blond Desi (Julia Stiles, current queen of the modern-day Shakespeare flick). Hugo can't stand that O gets all the attention, particularly from Hugo's own father, basketball coach Duke (Martin Sheen, who fulfills every high school basketball coach stereotype in his performance). So Hugo puts a diabolical plan in motion, making Odin believe that Desi is cheating on him with Mike (Andrew Keegan), another stand-out player, and one of O's best friends. Odin's paranoia soon consumes him; his anger and Hugo's plotting eventually lead to a cataclysmic finale every bit as tragic as Shakespeare's bloodiest plays. Though the script is sometimes stilted ("I'm always straight with you, O!" Stiles proclaims as Desi) and the pacing is a bit uneven (the drama kicks in a little too quickly), Stiles and Phifer both turn in excellent performances, and, overall, the movie seems very thoughtfully crafted as a commentary both on high school and the state of modern society. Lions Gate's two-disc deluxe edition DVD definitely puts the movie's best foot forward. Both the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-frame versions of the film found on Disc One look good, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is strong (English and Spanish subtitles are available). Nelson's commentary, also on the first disc, isn't exactly electrifying, but he offers some interesting insights and context for the film. On Disc Two are four deleted scenes with optional commentary, interviews with the cast (Stiles, Hartnett, Phifer) and Nelson, analysis of three key basketball scenes by Nelson and director of photography Russell Lee Hines, trailers, and the piece de resistance: a newly restored version of Dimitri Buchowetzki's silent Othello from 1922. Not only does the second film provide an easy way to compare Nelson's update with the Bard's original story, but it's just plain fun to get a classic like this for the price of admission. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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