Here are a pair of movies based, respectively, on Shakespeare's classic plays "Hamlet" and "Macbeth."
OK, Mel Gibson's robust "Hamlet" you've heard of. But "Men of Respect," a modern-day gangster picture, really is based on "Macbeth." Honest!- "HAMLET" was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who has already given us two very fine Shakespeare films - "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Taming of the Shrew," both from the late '60s.
Zeffirelli has given us some other fine movie work as well, including the TV miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth" and two excellent operas-on-film, "Otello" and "La Traviata." He's also the creator of such cinematic pap as "Endless Love" and "The Champ."
But with "Hamlet," Zeffirelli is back in top form with a lush, rich, very well-acted piece - and yes, that acting includes none other than Mel Gibson in the title role.
Purists may quibble with some of the liberties Zeffirelli has taken here, juxtaposing some scenes and dropping others, and they may even object to the more lively, less brooding tone of the production in general and the lead character in particular. But then, if memory serves, there were complaints about his "Romeo and Juliet" and "Taming of the Shrew" as well, though both are now regarded most favorably.
Gibson's "Hamlet," one might say, owes something to the character he developed for the first "Lethal Weapon" - neurotic, on-the-edge, a tormented soul searching for something to make his life worth living. And not without reason.
Gibson delivers the familiar speeches with vigor and sincerity and his swashbuckling is terrific, especially in the final, surprisingly rousing sequence, which even stolid Shakespeare buffs should find most exciting.
Though I recognize this may put me in the minority among critics, Glenn Close is less successful for me as Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, tending to rely a bit too much on hysteria as a means of conveying her character's guilty sense of self-discovery.
The rest of the cast, however, from Alan Bates' conniving Claudius to Paul Scofield's ghost of Hamlet's father to Ian Holm's comic Polonius to Helena Bonham-Carter's timid, then mad Ophelia, is dead-on, as are the many actors in lesser roles.
Gibson can rightly consider this film a royal feather in his cap, since it confirms to doubters that he is an actor, not just a pretty face - despite such recent miscalculations as "Bird on a Wire" and "Air America." (Those of us who remember his early work in films like "Gallipoli" and "Tim" - not to mention the underrated "The Bounty" - are not so surprised.)
As for Zeffirelli,"Hamlet," rated PG for violence, rounds out an excellent trilogy of Shakespeare films, aided by a less-eccentric-than-usual music score from Ennio Morricone and wonderful location work in and around a Scottish castle.
While this "Hamlet" should prove even more accessible to general audiences than Zeffirelli's earlier Shakespeare adaptations, it is also a fine film in its own right.
- "MEN OF RESPECT," which, as mentioned above, is also based on Shakespeare - in this case, "Macbeth" - plays out the story in a modern-day New York gangster setting. The mix is as oil with water.
What writer-director William Reilly is aiming for has some value, but his execution leaves muchto be desired. Though the letter of the Bard has been faithfully adapted, with set-pieces and variations on dialogue inventively conceived, the spirit has been lost by overplaying atmosphere - darkness, thunder and lightning, even an earthquake - and punctuating speeches with gunfire and gore.
John Turturro, who was in two mob movies last year, "Miller's Crossing" and "State of Grace," is the Macbeth here, a small-time hood who moves to the center of the "family" by killing his enemies, egged on by his wife (Katherine Borowitz, Turturro's real-life wife).
But students of "Macbeth" - and maybe everyone else, too - will find unintended humor in certain scenes. At one point he goes around shouting that he can't be killed because those around him "are not of woman born." In the background one of his cohorts says, "What does that mean?"
Maybe Reilly should have aimed for comedy. Certainly when Steven Wright, the deadpan standup comic, turns up in a cameo, one wonders if that isn't what he meant to do.
"Men of Respect" is rated R for considerable violence and profanity, and some nudity.