Why I recommend this — 5 years ago
This is a hugely intelligent adaptation. The cuts in length are achieved mostly by cutting subplot, and by telling stuff in pictures when it’s possible – the opposite of the Branagh version (charming though that is in its own way), that extrapolates extensions to scenes and typically illustrates text rather than using the language of film to contract it or comment upon it.
Almereyda has successfully translated a lot of the diegetic textual stuff to pictures too. Hamlet isn’t reading books, he’s editing a video diary that also functions as a natural environment for soliloquy (although mind-numbing spaces outside time, like a Blockbuster Video and a trans-Atlantic flight, also serve the same purpose). And the play-within-the-play is, of course, a film-within-a-film.
A few very gentle modernizations in the language work very well – I notices “reck his rede” becomes “reck his creed” (the DVD subtitles have “wreck his creed”, but I read that as meaning the opposite so that’s probably a mistake). Difficult vocabulary has mostly been avoided by cutting lines that would be incomprehensible to the modern audience. Those lines quite often refer to details of Elizabethan life or the Danish court that would not be suitable for the Manhattan setting anyway.
Julia Stiles, whom I typically have liked more than the performances have merited, is finally given material that works for her. Hawke, whom I often find annoyingly mawkish, is very very good, and Liev Schreiber is absolutely stellar as Laertes. The use of Bill Murray as Polonius in 2000 is noteworthy, he must have been cast just after Rushmore came out – does very well as a hapless father, with BRILLIANT little physical details as when he crams a wad of bills into the pocket of his son’s jacket.