Writer and director Michael Almereyda (Nadja) has fashioned a high tech and cleverly staged adaptation of William Shakespeare's classic. Set in New York City in 2000, the drama begins with an announcement of the death of the king and CEO of Denmark Corporation. Ensconced in his fancy apartment high above the city, Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) broods over the news. At a press conference, his sexy mother Gertrude (Diane Venora) reveals her upcoming marriage to Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan), a slick corporate wheeler-dealer on the fast track.
Hamlet's friend Horatio (Karl Geary) reports that a ghost has been picked up by the building's surveillance cameras. Soon Hamlet's father (Sam Shepard) is in his apartment with a tale of betrayal and great evil to tell. Convinced that he must act swiftly to avenge his father's murder, Hamlet must first deal with Ophelia (Julia Stiles) whose father Polonius (Bill Murray) has enlisted her in service of Claudius. The moody protagonist must also play a game of cat and mouse with Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) and Guildenstern (Dechen Thurman), who bear him ill will. The final confrontation between Hamlet and Ophelia's brother Laertes (Liev Schreiber) takes place on a penthouse roof.
Almereyda has staged this classic with imaginative clout. Some of the most audacious scenes include Hamlet's famous "to be or not to be" speech given as he wanders down a video store aisle, Ophelia's descent into insanity at a prestigious event at the Guggenheim Museum, and the king's ghostly appearance in front of a soda-dispensing machine. Some speeches arrive as faxes or messages on an answering machine. Home videos, cell phones, limousines, and other symbols of our high tech culture make up the layered environment of this powerful adaptation, which proves beyond a doubt that Shakespeare is as contemporary as ever.