Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

O

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson (2001, Lion Gate Films)
Starring Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles, and Martin Sheen

A teen manipulates fellow basketball players to jealousy in order to remove his competition for his father's love.

 

 

2+ stars+

April 7th, 2002 on DVD

 
    Entertaining on some fronts, but disappointing on many others. I was never actually drawn into the conflict, which is unfortunate, because the acting was pretty solid.

I have little sympathy for naive characters, most of the time. In order to enjoy a naive character, they have to be extremely well made, and naive for a reason. I don't know if it was the directing, the editing, or the combined acting, but I was not drawn into believing that these people were actually as naive as they were made out to be. In most scenes, they were smart, world-wise people, with high self-esteem. But then they get turned around by someone who didn't seem to me to be very subtle. I had trouble with it.

I rented this movie for the sole reason that I love watching Julia Stiles. She made a great Desi, but she only had to react to the other people around her. When Odin starts acting strange and jealous, she takes a hard stance. It's tough to intimidate her. She is convincing enough that it makes it difficult to see her go through this tough time, since she has no idea what's going on. It's a wonder that she didn't take refuge in Michael. I do wish, after Odin started making the accusations, that she had mentioned as much -Mike was a very stable person, and could have offered her a shoulder to cry on. But we never get to see that, which is unfortunate.

Hugo (Iago from Othello) is the person who dreams up this entire scheme. While the actor also did a great job in bringing the character to life, there was no real chemistry between him and any of the other characters. We see him manipulating others, strangely effectively, and giving dark looks behind their backs. The reason he is such a dark character is that his father, coach of the high school basketball team, seems to prefer the team star over him. At one point, the coach says "I never have to worry about you", being the perfect student and a great player. But because the coach never worries about his son, he also seems to neglect the boy. And Hugo is starved for affection.

Odin is the coach's choice for MVP of the team, and he calls his friend Michael up to share it with him, because they work so well together. That seals the fates of all around him. The coach says that he considers Odin a son, and that causes Hugo no end of jealousy.

When Michael is suspended after a fight at a party (orchestrated by Hugo), Hugo tells him to get close to Desi in order to win back Odin's support. Then Hugo starts putting thoughts in Odin's head that Desi and Michael are sleeping together. Odin rejects this, but starts seeing things that aren't there. He gets deeper and deeper into a jealous rage, and with no outlet, he becomes moody. After being shown as such a strong character, with such an amazing relationship with Desi, I can't believe Odin would be so silent about his feelings, and that he would believe Desi was cheating on him. Although she is close with Michael, she gives no sign whatsoever that she could possibly even lie to him.

One thing leads to another, and Odin is finally ripe for Hugo's big plan. He manipulates Michael and Odin such that Odin will kill Desi, and they will frame it on Michael. This seems to come out of the blue. Odin talks about killing Michael, but ends up killing his girlfriend? That's a far stretch.

The only person I can believe was really so naive was Donald, who is so obsessed with Desi that he can't even think straight. I can easily believe that he would follow Hugo's insane instructions for methods that would break Desi and Odin up, and "impress" Desi. But I can't think how he convinced Donald to pull a gun on Michael. Donald had no quarrel with Michael.

As we watch Hugo outlining his plan to Odin, step by step, viewers are instantly aware that something is going to go wrong with his plan. We would never be forced to sit through the same actions twice. Often this is fun to watch what goes wrong with the original plot. Unfortunately, as has happened in other instances like this (like in Deep Space Nine's "Badda-Bing Badda-Bang"), the changes are pretty minor. Mike doesn't want to take a drink, but is convinced to do so anyway. He is also supposed to drive to their final game with another girl, but is convinced to leave her behind. Donald hesitates at shooting Michael, but with a crowbar to the head delivered by Hugo, Donald shoots the boy in the leg. I don't know why Hugo started yelling at Donald. He claims that it won't look like a suicide now, because of the shot to the leg. But even if the bullet went through the heart, a crowbar strike to the head is not very suicide-like. We are never even given any indication if Mike survived by the end or not. He seemed to be flinching, moving around, but may have been dead by the time the ambulance arrived.

There are several unexplained things in this movie, or many that didn't have any payoff. One was the use of Emily. Why was she in on this? I thought at one point that she was jealous of Desi for Odin's affections. Or perhaps of their true relationship. It looks like Emily is sleeping with everybody, but although that's implied, we don't know it for sure. She doesn't seem to like Hugo (giving him dirty looks in the hospital, going off with her arm around Mike), even though she professes to Desi to like him. And when she steals the scarf from Desi and gives it to Hugo, she sleeps with him (or it is implied, anyway). What was her motivation? In the end, she is also shot, for giving the truth away.

Why was Odin even portrayed as a black boy? He is the only black kid in school, but it's mentioned as an afterthought, as are his comments to Desi near the beginning. I don't understand the dramatic importance of this, since he is treated exactly the same as any other kid. I'm not saying that he should be treated different, but that so much is made of being black, and having a relationship with a white girl, in Othello, but it was missing here almost completely. The one scene that could have made a difference was deleted, but would have appeared much too late to do any good, anyway (with the drug dealer's speech).

The use of drugs didn't seem to make any difference, either. They may have heightened the feelings of jealousy in Odin, making his true feelings less real, and thus less effective t the viewer. Fine. But why did they have Hugo taking drugs? Okay, so he was feeling left out, and wanted to show what kind of player he could be to his father- that he could be MVP. But there was no drug-testing, and nobody finds out about it. So what was the dramatic purpose? Would anybody have cared enough to at least try and bring him to the road of redemption? It seemed to be there for the sole purpose that drugs are used by some high school students, perhaps especially by top athletes (this also seems to be supported by the director interview). But so what?  How does it affect the story?  Not at all, from where I sit.

The one scene that was used very effectively was the dark sex scene between Desi and Odin. Sure, I think Julia Stiles is very beautiful, so that helped. But the scene did go on a little too long. We could have cut from them enjoying themselves quickly to Odin's becoming violent, in a scene that goes from being sex to rape in the space of a heartbeat. It effectively showed what Odin was capable of in keeping his claim on what was "his". As it was, for fist-time lovers, they seemed to go on for way too long...

I don't have all bad things to say about this film. It did have certain elements that made it enjoyable in a small degree. Surprisingly, since I don't like basketball, I found the game scenes very intense and interesting, though I abhorred the music they were set to. The relationship between Desi and Odin also seemed very real at the beginning. I liked his reflection that he enjoyed feeling skin against skin as they both went topless in bed -no sex, just skin. And that also showed off Emily's emotions well, though by the end I didn't know how to interpret them.

And although I thought the characters were naive, Hugo did a great job of convincing them of what wasn't there, if you can accept their naiveté. He gave a good performance moving from friend to enemy, and didn't care who he took down in the process. The one he wanted to hurt, just as he was desperate for love from the man, was his father. But if the lives of Michael, Odin and Desi were what he had to pay for it, so be it. He was willing. And even by the end, he is satisfied that he will still "fly", and take his rightful place in the adoring eyes of the world.

Martin Sheen also did a great job at being the crazed and victory-obsessed coach. It is obvious from his hysterics that he was ecstatic to be on a team that could win for once! And I have to mention Donald again. He was a wimp, but he was determined to win Desi's love. And he showed it well, with some great acting.

So the good acting could have made the film quite enjoyable. I wonder what happened. Was it poor directing? The director does a terrible job in giving an audio commentary. Perhaps he can't articulate what he wants for the screen, either. Or it could have been poor editing, snapping us from one scene to another. I just don't know. Whatever it was, something was missing to give this movie real passion. A story about jealousy should be very passionate. It was missing in this film. The writers seem to think that simply making the teenagers swear every second word makes a passionate scene. Sorry. Not true.

As for the DVD, there was nothing really special on here, either. Interviews were routine, and too short to be of interest. The deleted scenes were just as interesting, and sometimes better, than what we found in the movie. The director's commentary on them was terrible, and never really explained why they were deleted ("pacing" he says, but I disagree). The silent black and white version of the old Othello I couldn't watch for more than a minute -but others might enjoy it. Strangely enough, the basketball analysis segment was the best part of the extras- and I almost didn't watch it! The director of photography had some excellent things to say, when the director got out of the way. The second disk contains the same extras as the first one, except that it also has the silent movie on it. Not worth the second disk. Movie trailers are always fun to watch, but why did they have so many for other movies?
 
   

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