• Review Date: May 19, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Imaginative, arresting Shakespeare retelling.
  • Review Date: May 19, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 95 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The racial issues of Shakespeare's play Othello have been the focus of academics, cultural historicists and students for centuries. Here, once again,  the complex racial fears are reexamined in a contemporary setting with great skill. Tolerance, acceptance, and trust are the virtues implicitly being promoted, but the question remains: If Odin didn't succumb to his fatal flaw, would this tale be anywhere near as relevant?

Positive role models

Each character's actions, and flaws, are integral to the outcome of this tragedy. Therefore, it's hard to call any of them role models. Hugo (based on a one of Shakespeare's most famous villains, Iago) is just as dastardly as ever!


Intense and fatal violence, rape scene, suicide.


Sexual references and situations.


Extremely strong language, including the "N" word.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teens drink and use drugs, including steroids.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the film's original theatrical release was delayed because of its violence. As in the original play, characters are brutally murdered, and there is rape and suicide. Teen characters smoke, drink, and use drugs. The language is extremely harsh, including the n-word and a homophobic epithet, as well as some very harsh rap lyrics on the soundtrack.  A consensual sexual encounter turns into a rape, and there are other sexual references and situations. A girl is referred to as a slut.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

O is a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello, set in a contemporary southern prep school. Odin (Mekhi Phifer), a talented black athlete, the only black student in the school, is in love with Desi (Julia Stiles), the headmaster's daughter. Instead of Iago, the trusted friend who's consumed with jealousy is Hugo (Josh Hartnett), the coach's son. Othello explores deeply troublesome issues regarding race, sexuality, promiscuity, trust and jealousy, and this version does it justice.

Is it any good?


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. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how easy it can be to shake someone's trust, and how difficult it is to determine who we should believe. Does Odin doubt Desi so quickly because he's unsure about himself?

  • Would he be so quick to believe that she was unfaithful to him if Mike was black? Would Hugo be so angry at Odin if were white?

  • What do you think about O's use of the n-word and his reaction when he's told that Mike and Desi call him that behind his back? When Hugo is invited to have dinner with his father, why does the camera show only Hugo?

  • Since this is based on a play written in the very early seventeenth century (1603) it has its roots in classical Greek tragedies where the hero (Odin) always has a "fatal flaw" that will, no matter what, lead to his down fall. What do you feel is Odin's fatal flaw?

  • Why do you think that race is such a large issue between the three main characters, Desi, Odin and Hugo?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 31, 2001
DVD release date:February 19, 2002
Cast:Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer
Director:Tim Blake Nelson
Run time:95 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence, a scene of strong sexuality, language and drug use

This review of O was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written bywonder dove December 27, 2012

Rollercoaster of emotions...

This story is pretty intense and not recommended for kids under 17! It deals a lot with race and racial comments, extreme jealousy, relationships and trust but it is so accurate which makes the film so good. It was a mistake when I first viewed it as a tween because not only did I miss the message of the movie, but it was far too violent. Everything here involves teens and their own personal issues with each other. The violence is gory and strong which includes gun use by teens, verbal abuse, a rape scene, suicide, fight scenes with a knife, killings, lying, bullying and peer pressure - Odin is scary when he's mad!. The sexual content is explicit in one sex scene which turns into rape but no nudity. Crude & racial sexual remarks like referring to white women as snakes. A couple lays in bed naked together just talking - no nudity. There is kissing throughout, cheating, a teen tells her father that her relationship with Odin is none of his business after a nasty rumor spreads around, reference to being a sl*t. Very strong language. Teen drinking & drug use (needle shown). NOT for kids, but a really powerful and well-done film for mature minds.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written bykshanmugam May 1, 2014

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.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 16 years old Written bycmay11 April 26, 2014

A Little Over the Top but Accurate

I am always hesitant about watching a movie after reading the corresponding book/play. Most of the time, the movie is misleading and strays away from the original story and key details. However, the movie "O" directed by Tim Blake Nelson did not do a shabby job at portraying Shakespeare's famous play. But of course, since the film was a modern take off of the story, many aspects were altered. Othello's character was named Odin James (Mehki Phifer), a star basketball player at a high school in which he was the only African American. The basketball team represented his position in the military. Iago's character was transformed into Hugo Goulding (Josh Hartnett), another player on the team along with Michael Cassio (Andrew Keegan). The whole conflict starts when Odin chooses Michael to be the MVP of the basketball team instead of choosing Hugo. This would be the equivalence of Othello overlooking Iago for the lieutenancy. From then on, Hugo pursues his revenge on Odin by messing with his life and relationship with his true love, Desi Brable (Julia Stiles). Now, even though I said this movie was pretty accurate in storytelling, I for sure am not saying it is pleasant or appropriate. I don't think the characters went more than 2 minutes without dropping the F bomb or making a sexual remark. I understand that it was a high school setting, but it was just way too over the top. It also contained drug use by Othello and Iago's characters. In addition, as if those things weren't bad enough, there was a sex/rape scene between Odin and Desi that was very hard to watch. I do not suggest seeing this movie if you are sensitive to those controversial situations. I also found Desi's death to be extremely brutal, being suffocated to death by Odin. That was probably the most difficult scene to watch. Although this movie was very inappropriate and racy in my eyes, I do believe that the actors and actresses did a wonderful job at representing their characters wants and desires. Iago's great manipulation skills and ability to blame everything on everyone else was portrayed perfectly through Hugo's character, and Othello's extreme jealously shone through Odin's actions and emotions. I definitely saw a strong connection between the original play and the inspired movie, and I believe it did it justice. The only advice I can give you is to prepare yourselves.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism


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