Whoever thought that Jungle Fever could get this violent.
A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “Othello” that takes place in an exclusive boarding school where Odin James (Mekhi Phifer) is the star basketball player and sole black student. Odin’s beautiful girlfriend, Desi (Julia Stiles), adores him, and his coach (Martin Sheen) loves him like a son. But jealousy drives the coach’s real son, Hugo (Josh Hartnett), into an elaborate and deadly scheme to knock Odin off his exalted perch.
The film was completed in 1999 but was shelved and moved to a different studio, mostly because of the Columbine High School massacre.
A month ago I reviewed the film Leaves of Grass, and loved it from almost start to finish. I though the writing was witty, directed very well, and overall acted superbly. That film was written and directed by the same guy here, crazy man Tim Blake Nelson. He didn’t write this film, and it really is a damn shame, cause I think that is what could have really benefited the film.
There are many things that go wrong with this script. For example, Desi’s roommate is tricked by Hartnett to trick her, and as she sees the damage caused by her actions she just stands there looking like a total idiot. And also when the characters experience 180 degree personality changes and start packing guns, snorting coke, and talking murder, it just gets plain ridiculous.
The film however does do a good job, of actually bringing out a good point of teen violence, in a time of where its starting to escalate. The film has its shares of ups and downs when it comes to the script, but it is true in nature and soul to the original source material, and that’s why it works. Nelson does an excellent job directing, adding a heavy dose of visual symbolism that in other hands may have come off as intruding or flashy but here largely maintains an ambiguity that allows plenty of room for interpretation on the part of the viewer.
The acting here is very good which is the reason the film is saved. Josh Hartnett is very convincing as this jealous, sneaky, asshole that tries all of his ways into getting the fame that he thinks he so rightfully deserves. Mekhi Phifer is the real treat in this film, and provides some great scenes when his character starts to show more emotion and anger, and by the end his performance is just perfect. It sucks that this guy is only remembered for being in Dawn of the Dead, and playing the DJ dude in 8 Mile, he really does have talent that needs to be appreciated. Him and Julia Stiles together feels genuine.
Fun Fact: This is Julia Stiles’ second film playing a love interest of a black dude (the other one was Save the Last Dance).
The last 10 minutes of the film is really the main reason to see the film as it works with the film so well. Its effective and powerful.
Consensus: The script takes the film and turns into something completley unbelievable, but features a good direction from Blake Nelson that remains loyal to the original material, and good performances from the cast.