Tuesday, July 3, 2012
(December 1990, U.S.)
Mel Gibson as Hamlet??? The star of three MAD MAX and two LEATHAL WEAPON (by that time) movies as the Prince of Denmark??? Twenty-two years ago, I suppose that made about as much sense as Edward G. Robinson playing Rhett Butler in GONE WITH THE WIND. Now I didn't fully realize it at the time, but it was only three years later that I'd learn a new perspective of Hamlet's character and persona that I'd never contemplated before, and it would come from a truly unlikely source; an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie! In late 1993, I rented LAST ACTION HERO and there was a scene where little Danny's elementery school teacher (played by Joan Plowright) introduces her students to the concept that Hamlet can be interpreted as the first true action hero. Hold the phone! That may not sound as stupid as you might think! Let's break it down, shall we. Hamlet is a man driven by some very ugly human emotions and actions including fear, rage, jealousy and a profound desire to committ bloody murder in the name of vengeance. So, that in mind, let's take another look at the idea of Mel Gibson starring in Franco Zeffirelli's version of HAMLET. In 1990, was there possibly anyone else on the big screen who could have inhabited those intense qualities better than Mel Gibson? Possibly not, so the concept of his own take on Hamlet is a lot more than plausible, isn't it. And as it turned out, it was also quite enjoyable.
So what we're really talking about here is an action film genre version of HAMLET (the fencing climax between Hamlet and Laertes is just one sample of that). I dare to say the idea work very well with a man like Gibson who plays the dark side of Hamlet more than adequately, but can also deliver a performance that's sensitive and painful when it needs to be at the right moments. Through Gibson's pain, we come to understand just how much Hamlet loved his father and how infuriating it is to watch his mother marry his father's brother within just two months of his passing (murder, actually...most foul!). Aside from Gibson and Glenn Close as Queen Gertrude, the rest of the cast brings the true British flavor that has come to define Shakespeare in cinema. Gibson and Close, as un-British as they may be, carry themselves beautifully in what must be incredibly challenging roles for them.
Mel Gibson (regardless of his off screen insanity during this century) is a strong and intelligent actor and HAMLET shines because of it. The film under Zeffirelli's direction is emotionally-charged and naturalistic. By the original play's definition, nearly half of it has been deleted to secure a more respectable cinematic running time. Somehow, you don't feel cheated, though. Hamlet is a character whose strength, weakness, pain, joy and indecisiveness keeps your attention the entire time, whether content is missing or not. Though not my absolute favorite, this 1990 "action" version of HAMLET is very much worth a serious look.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Polonius: "What do you read, my Lord?"