Things I Liked:
Liev Schreiber. Schreiber is Laertes in this film and he has been the most interesting Laertes of any of the Hamlet's I've watched. His scenes are packed with more interesting moment and he holds the screen more than any of the other actors. The only problem I had with him was that he didn't have more screen time as Laertes is only in the beginning and end of the story.
Julia Stiles. Stiles as Ophelia is a very well performed and she really makes you feel all of Ophelia's pain and woe as the story progresses. The movie's best scenes are the two were she and Schreiber hold the screen together and the pair make the movie better with their presence. Again the biggest problem is how minor they make both of them in this film.
Kyle Maclachlan. Maclachlan plays Claudius and commands the screen so well that you truly understand his motives and see how ruthless Claudius can be. It was a different take from many that we've seen and the younger more brutal version of the usurping king is very interesting to watch. Maclachlan's role is shortened a little from other versions but he still commands the screen and makes you see that Claudius is running the show.
Things I Didn't Like:
Ethan Hawke. Oh man Hawke is bad in this film. He's depressing, he's bland, he seems completely detached from the text and he has no charisma. This is a huge problem because he is the central character and is on screen almost the entire time! Hawke has never been an actor who really excited me but I really don't like the work he is doing here. His Hamlet is boring and that is one thing that Hamlet can't be.
Bill Murray. Bill Murray plays Polonius and he clearly isn't down with the Shakespearean dialogue. Each scene he is in is a strain and you can see him struggling to grasp the dialogue, which is rough because Polonius talks a LOT. The movie also fails to utilize his natural comedic talents in the role and the entire character becomes so boring that you don't even know why he is there in the first place.
The Tone. This film is bleak. This Hamlet tries to play at depressing and dark and neither one works. The joy of Shakespeare's writing is that Hamlet never gets bleak; even in the face of horrifying darkness the play remains alive and interesting. This film kills all that in an attempt to inhabit the mindset of Hamlet and it loses all passion and drive and drags the film through the mud in the process. Additionally, the screenplay chooses to use long moments of silence instead of utilizing the dialogue when the dialogue is there it is cut up and spliced all over the place and loses all of it's power. The film has no energy and focus and as a result the viewers have no interest.
Overall. Overall the film is dark and depressing. It's lead is bland and uninteresting and while there are some bright and interesting minor characters the dialogue has been chopped up and removed so much that no one gets to really come to the forefront like they should. The film is a waste of the original work and it is a shame that we haven't had a major motion picture version in the past 15 years because this is a poor note to end on.
Unlike the Romeo and Juliet (96) which had a ton of stylized cinematography and pacing Hamlet 2000 is mundane, grey and not fun to look at much like Hamlet 1990. The setting is in some generic apartment building witch isn't visually stimulating. Though there is occasional creative shots here and there, they are far and few between. To be honest Hamlet 2000 was pretty low budget and it shows its measly 2 million dollar budget in the lack of visuals and couldn't get close to the epic scale, beautiful shots, from the Oscar nominated Hamlet 1996
Little skill was used in the directing as most scenes were people sitting around barely moving. Acting for the most part is wooden and unconvincing. Half the lines are barely audible and most people speak in mumble. I felt like the actors had no clue what they were saying. I barely knew what they were saying. The casting wasn't that good either, Ethan Hawke as Hamlet; Bill Murray as Polonius? What? That doesn't sound right and they just phoned in every scene. Julia Stiles's character Ofelia has a scene where she screams while being dragged away which was unintentionally hilarious because it looked like she didn't care at all. One take seems like most they ever did and it makes the movies genre to be a "Thriller" to be underwhelming.
The respect for the source material could be taken as offensive. The famous "To Be or Not To Be" speech is filmed in a blockbuster while Ethan Hawke has the goofiest outfit imaginable. Nice product placement there buddy! Then all of a sudden you see Hamlet 2000 watching the actual Hamlet on tv? WHAT?! How does that even work? Just imagine if its Back to the Future 2 and in it the main characters are seen watching Back to the Future 1 on television. It shouldn't even be in the same universe. Though in another movie it actually happened, in Ginger Snaps 2 but it was done as a completely obscure reference and the movie was a black comedy too so it worked. But for a adaptation of Shakespeare? XD hilarious!
The play Hamlet puts on is changed to a pretentious "The Ring" like vhs tape though I kind of like that scene.
Sound mixing is muffled a bit though it could've been the vhs copy. But there was barely any music in the movie when there was it was incredibly generic. Theres a scene that takes place in a party and the characters are still mumbling to each other while blaring music is playing. How do they hear each other? This could be the fault of some mediocre editing which has some flashbacks or visions that don't really add to the film at all.
This is one of the shorter Hamlet movies to get released just running less than 2 hours which is definitely useful if you wanted a quick summary of the story. And its not a horrible film its definitely watchable and its pretty innocent experiment. When it was released it was well received surprisingly reaching a 70/100 on Metacritic it hasn't aged well however. Hamlet 2000 is still fun to poke at with a group of people. But still there are tons of other adaptions of Hamlet that should be checked out like the 1948 and 1996 ones. Hamlet 2000 gets a 4/10
Also Bill Murray is in this.
Michael Almereyda's adaptation belongs to the latter category.
Although I do believe that Shakespeare is remembered to this day more for his dialogue than his stories (and there is no shame in that), "Hamlet" is probably one of his best-developed plots, vying for "Othello" in terms of complexity. Hamlet is the teenaged prince of Denmark, who comes home from college upon hearing that his father has been killed, and his uncle Claudius has married the queen, Gertrude. Hamlet's father arrives as a ghost to tell him that Claudius is responsible for his death, and tasks him with revenge. Hamlet only trusts Horatio, another friend from college, with this information, not even telling his love, Ophelia. At the same time, Hamlet must feign madness to avoid suspicion from Ophelia's father (and Claudius's man crush) Polonius, as well as college chums Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
It gets more complicated.
Still, more important than the story are the characters. For example, "Reservoir Dogs" (written and directed by the modern-day Shakespeare, Quentin Tarantino) is not a particularly complex story, but seems that way through storytelling and (more importantly) its complex characters.
So not only does Hamlet have a complex story, it has characters with a variety of motives, definitely open for interpretation. This play isn't "Romeo and Juliet" or "Titus Andronicus" people- this play is art, plain and simple.
As you can imagine, adaptation can be a bit of a bitch. Some people, like Kenneth Branagh, get it right.
Thank God for films like this that make us appreciate the good versions we get.
Let's talk about performances, because that's what will ultimately determine if your adaptation is a hit or a dud. The story should stand on its own. Granted, the adapted script in this film DOESN'T stand on its own, but we'll get to that later.
Ethan Hawke plays Hamlet, and good God, he is awful. I'm sure this is not his fault. It can't be. Ethan Hawke is a talented actor. And yet, for some reason, this film sucks his talent from him in the worst way.
The way he plays Hamlet is unbearably one-note. While it's true that Hamlet is extremely depressed, the people in charge of this film have clearly never met a depressed person before. Every line, every word, is imbued with an air of melancholy, completely devoid of energy. This is not how depressed people act. Eeyore was not meant to be taken seriously.
Granted, there are moments where he livens up (the infamous "may I sit in your lap", while lacking the playful subtlety the scene needs to work, is at least energetic) but they fall flat as well. They're rarely in the places they should be, and the line reading is as stiff and bland as it is when he's acting depressed.
It's clear that Hawke was overwhelmed by the language. I've never played a Shakespeare character on stage or film before, but it seems clear that the best way to go about it is with confidence and bravura, which Hawke does not do.
Listen to how he performs his most famous speeches. "To be or not to be" feels like a man discussing how utterly bland his dinner is. The speech where Hamlet rededicates himself to his cause feels completely unconvincing when delivered by Hawke.
Where's the passion? Where's the excitement? Where's the FUN?
It's certainly not with Polonius, played by a miscast Bill Murray. The bumbling old busybody that we know and love is replaced with... well, nothing, really. Polonius is just a flesh puppet with lines coming from his mouth; the casting of Bill Murray is only there to add another name to the cast.
Big roles feel small thanks to lifeless performances; Diane Venora's Gertrude and Karl Geary's Horatio follow the same principle. And Julia Stiles, lovely as she is, doesn't do much as Ophelia. Stiles has been in three modern-day versions of a Shakespeare play. This is the worst.
Not all the performances are bad, luckily. Liev Schreiber is decent as Laertes, if not great. Kyle Machlachlan is appropriately slimy as Claudius, and Sam Shepard makes for an effective ghost. The best performance by far comes from Steve Zahn as Rosencrantz, a casting match made in heaven. He's underutilized, but he gets in some great moments.
I'm sure there might be some more great performances of other great roles were they kept in. Yeah, that's another problem- the film is far too short, clocking in at under two hours. Maybe Julius Caesar could get away with this, but Hamlet suffers greatly.
What is gained by the decision to remove the Players and instead have Hamlet make a pretentious movie? Besides making Hamlet appear like a twat?
Hamlet has a total of four soliloquies to give, and in this film he gives one. Possibly two. I can't recall. The point is, there's something missing.
The worst offenders are the handling of the Captain's speech and the Gravedigger scene. A great actor like Tim Blake Nelson is given one line. Jeffrey Wright is cast as the Gravedigger, and then given nothing to do but hum.
It's ridiculous. And a waste.
Much like this film.