Parents' Guide to


By Rhiannon Bruni, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Imaginative, arresting Shakespeare retelling.

Movie R 2001 95 minutes
O Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 17+

Based on 3 parent reviews

age 17+

O maybe No

Shakespearean adaptations for film are always tricky. Everyone waits with baited breath...will it be interesting? will we understand the language? will we care? will it be high art? low art? faux art? This one is a bit clunky...but I would argue that the original play also has some clunky parts...but it is in Iago's/Hugo's deliciously hateful behavior that we are all sucked in. In O the hip hop overlay feels forced and a bit too, "look at how hip we are! We know about Black Star!" but that is true of many films that try to capture the spark of youth. The last 30 minutes merge the Bard and the prep school update seamlessly. Everyone commits and we are left to pick up the pieces.
age 18+

Shakespeare in a Movie?!

Shakespeare staged in high school? I wonder why no one else thought of that. As far as captivating teenagers with century old pieces goes, director Tim Blake Nelson and screenwriter Brad Kaaya most definitely succeeded in catching my attention. Their collaborative effort “O” resembles Shakespeare's tragic play Othello except scenes are staged in more modern stages. The action in “O” takes place at a modern private, southern, high school, where as Othello is staged many centuries ago in a battlefield in Cyprus. A violent, captivating tale of betrayal and love, “O” portrays the dangers and disasters of simply trusting a jealous man’s words. Starring Mekhl Phifer, an African American, as Odin, a popular star basketball player, truly makes the connection to Othello in terms of Othello, who indeed shares some of the characteristic of Odin of being personable and being a star in his own way. But just as Othello had an enemy, Iago, Odin did as well, but his enemy goes by the name of Hugo (Josh Hartnett). Hugo, Odin’s extremely jealous best friend, costs Odin his love, Desi Brable (Julia Stiles) and essentially his sanity. Hugo manipulates Odin into believing Desi has an affair with one of Odin’s teammates, Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan), which causes him to eventually take his lover’s life. Othello and Odin are practically two perfect people except for one tragic flaw: their jealousy. Iago and Hugo both take advantage of that flaw and plot Othello’s and Odin’s downfall. Being a realistic and violent film, “O” left me personally drained. The ending of the movie stands to be very abrupt as Odin just pulls out a gun out of nowhere and shoots everyone in a frenzy. Everyone except Hugo. Why not shoot the guy that created this whole mess in the first place? Although currently, it seems very practicable for a disturbed teenager to pull out a gun, however, in the movie, it just makes the ending seem rushed. Odin’s anger and frustration did not seem to lead up to the point where we he would end up shooting his classmates. Although it is possible for a shooting like this to happen in a school, the events leading up to the shooting seem very impracticable. I mean, who goes and stuffs their girlfriend’s face with a pillow just because of a rumor? And shooting someone just because they are stating their opinion? This is America, freedom of speech, obviously. The setting of the film kind of worked and kind of did not. Although it is a modern version, some actions such as killing someone because of infidelity seems like something that would have happened centuries ago. Now, people just break up and move on. Director Tim Blake Nelson and screenwriter Brad Kaaya, however, make sure to Shakespeare’s original work and the same connections from the play could be made to the movie. Mekhl portrays Odin’s/Othello’s vulnerable, talented, and insecure character flawlessly which really makes the movie seem like Shakespeare’s play. All the other actors do a fine job of conveying the angst of being teenagers and display the appropriate behaviors for their characters. I would definitely recommend this movie to adults and older teenagers and to be extremely cautious with this movie around children as it sends improper messages about drugs, alcohol, and friendships.

This title has:

Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (3):
Kids say (25):

Othello works exceptionally well in a high school setting because so much of the plot fits in with the overheated emotions and impetuousness of adolescence. The plot turns on rumors, misunderstandings, trusting the wrong people, and jumping to conclusions, all of which will seem familiar to teenagers. They will also be very familiar with the racial issues, and their impact on O's hypersensitivity to believing that Desi is faithful to him. Hugo's use of steroids deepens the credibility of his fury at Odin's success.

Odin shows his conflicts about women when he asks Desi, "If you were a virgin like you said you were, how come you acting all freaky?" This is typical of immature people who can't reconcile mature sexuality as a reflection of true intimacy. First-time director Tim Blake Nelson (who was last seen singing "In the Jailhouse Now" in O Brother Where Art Thou) shows a strong command of the storyline and imaginative use of visuals that underscore the movie's themes. He gets very strong performances from the actors, especially Hartnett and Phifer and Martin Sheen as the coach. Despite the outcry of Shakespeare elitests everywhere, O does a great job of transporting the The Moor of Venice into a contemporary setting and into the lives of contemporary teens in terms they can understand.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: August 31, 2001
  • On DVD or streaming: February 19, 2002
  • Cast: Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer
  • Director: Tim Blake Nelson
  • Inclusion Information: Black actors
  • Studio: Trimark
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 95 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: violence, a scene of strong sexuality, language and drug use
  • Last updated: January 1, 2023

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