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O (2001)

September 8th, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Miramax is brilliant at publicizing its successes, but it’s even more brilliant at burying its failures,” said Dennis Rice, their former president of marketing. Miramax Films was notorious for test screening its movies – often in malls in New Jersey – and barely releasing the ones that scored poorly. Some went straight to video, even those with major stars. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s B-sides, bombs and greatest misses.

O poster.jpg

Synopsis
At the all white “Palmetto Grove” prep school, All American power forward Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) is awarded a Most Valuable Player trophy by his coach (Martin Sheen). With a gorgeous girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles), O seems to have everything a high school kid could want. The coach’s son, Hugo (Josh Harnett) feels slighted, both for the award and his father’s attention.

Hugo begins his revenge by seducing Desi’s roommate Em (Rain Phoenix) into stealing a scarf O gave to Desi as a gift. Hugo plants seeds of doubt in O’s head about his girlfriend’s fidelity, suggesting she’s been spending a lot of time with their teammate, Cassio. Hugo also befriends the school outcast (Elden Henson), subject of Cassio’s torments.

Once Hugo’s ruse succeeds in splitting O and Desi, he gets O using drugs. This causes O to blow his big moment in front of the college recruiters. Hugo’s final masterstroke is to convince O to strangle Desi, while giving the outcast the means to kill Cassio, so they can pin Desi’s murder on him. Things do not go as planned.

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Production history 
Actor-writer-director Tim Blake Nelson was in Australia acting in The Thin Red Line when he received a script written by Brad Kaaya, who’d worked on MadTV. It was another Shakespeare adaptation set in a high school, this one taking its cue from Othello. But Nelson liked it. He felt that it could be “the high school film that would really turn the genre on its head” and agreed to direct.

With a budget of $3.5 million raised from investors, and filming set to commence, Bob Weinstein – chairman of Dimension Films, a division of Miramax – made a bid of $7.5 million to distribute O. He promised to release it on 1,000 screens. As the film was being edited in April 1999, twelve students and a teacher were killed at Columbine High School. Weinstein was undeterred. He liked the dailies he’d seen, and was eager to release the film in the fall for awards consideration.

Once Bob Weinstein showed O to his brother Harvey, the trouble started. A Senate Commerce Committee had announced hearings into the marketing of violent entertainment to children following the Columbine shootings. Harvey Weinstein had become a major campaign fundraiser for the Gore-Lieberman ticket, and Miramax told the film’s producer – Eric Gitter – that no decision about the release would be made until after the 2000 election.

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Two years after filming wrapped, Harvey Weinstein notified Gitter that it wasn’t in the studio’s interest to release the film. Gitter, a former lawyer who knew something about contracts, threatened to sue Miramax unless they released the film as promised. An out of court settlement was reached, and Lions Gate ended up distributing O on 1,400 screens August 31, 2001. It received some good reviews, but grossed only $16 million in the U.S.

Opinion 
O was a bad, bad, bad idea for a movie that gets worse every step of the way. Brad Kaaya had his first and only film credit here and shows why; the writing is completely flat and insipid. The cast features two of the most lethargic, boring actors working – Mekhi Phifer and Josh Harnett – in the same picture. And it felt like half the film took place on a basketball court, so there’s nothing remotely interesting going on with any of these characters.

The violence doesn’t resemble Columbine, so that’s not necessarily the problem. The problem was the concept that a tragedy like Othello – filled with hate and morbidity – would be neat to stage in an American high school. Reality has offered enough tragedy on campus lately, and the film comes off in poor taste, bordering on exploitation. It’s a complete embarrassment. Miramax had the right idea about dumping it.

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“This is a movie that holds your interest, but doesn’t do anything with it,” writes Eric D. Snider.

Brian Webster at Apollo Movie Guide says, “The beauty of O is in the seamless transformation of a hundreds-of-years-old story to a 21st century setting, aided by capable performances.”

Christopher Null at filmcritic.com writes, “the film’s biggest flaw is an abrupt, almost bad, editing job – coming in to scenes too late and leaving too soon, and vice versa.”

© Joe Valdez

Tags: Based on play · Coming of age · Father/son relationship · High school · Paranoia

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tiara Reed // Mar 24, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I HONESTLY LIKE THIS MOVIE. THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN. IT TOPS ALL MOVIES. I THINK THAT YOUR CHOICE OF ACTORS WAS BRILLIANT. I THINK THAT NO ONE ELSE COULD HAVE PLAYED THE ROLES BETTER. KEEP FDOING WAT YOUR DOING AND I WILL CONTINUE TO SUPPORT YOU GUYS. IT JUST BRILLIANT.

  • 2 Film Fan // Jun 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

    O should have been nominated for a Golden Globe. I think it would have, but since all the actors were portraying teens, they overlooked it. I realize it was based on Othello, but still, this version should have got the writer some sort of award. I seriously would know nothing about Othello without this movie. Story, acting, directing…all great.

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