Movie Review #809: While Kenneth Branagh is perfect as Iago, ‘Othello’ lacks the spark prevalent in other, more successful adaptations of Shakespeare.

By Red Stewart

Drama, Romance
Rated R (contains sexual content)
123 minutes

I read Othello not too long ago in senior year English and unfortunately, like Romeo and Juliet, I was disappointed by it. While I understand the 17th century wasn’t the best time to construct a good story on racism, the whole discriminatory angle still felt feebly implemented. Alongside that, Iago, while superbly written as a villain, didn’t seem to have a clear motivation, and his manipulations came off as silly at times.

While Franco Zeffirelli showed that dialogue shortcomings in the source material weren’t necessarily limitations for a film adaptation, thematic inadequacies are a completely different story, and in our day and age where such works as “Do the Right Thing” and “Boyz N the Hood” have tackled racial prejudice to a highly effective degree, “Othello” comes off as weak regardless of its positive aspects. That’s not to say they aren’t worth mentioning of course. Most notable among these good qualities is Kenneth Branagh as Iago who, despite not directing, channels his thespian qualities excellently into the desperado, being able to pull off that sly devilry hidden beneath an innocent exterior flawlessly. Irѐne Jacob is also great as Desdemona, though her inability to keep a consistent accent did get a little frustrating at times. Having been shot in Italy, the settings are well-assembled, bringing the city of Cyprus to life in rich form.

But in addition to the aforementioned downfalls in the drama’s leitmotifs, there were other problems in the movie. I didn’t find much passion for the material from director Oliver Parker as I had from Zeffirelli and Branagh. Charlie Mole’s music wasn’t that notable in any particular area and, as much as I loved him in The Matrix trilogy and Man of Steel, I was letdown by Laurence Fishburne as the titular character. He came off as a little too monotonous when delivering his lines in both emotional and calm scenes.

Overall, “Othello” does try to step in the right direction with its various filmic decisions, but it’s unfortunately bogged down by a play that, quite frankly, hasn’t aged well. ✴