Michael Almereyda hopes that people make quite a lot out of his slick interpretation of the Shakespeare classic, which entails resetting the play in present-day Manhattan (Denmark becoming "The Denmark Corporation" and so on). However, this Hamlet is as serious and reverent as most old-fashioned productions of the play, adding no fresh insight in the retelling.
Ethan Hawke in the title role isn't bad. Bill Murray doesn't make much of an impression as Polonius, nor does Julia Stiles as a very dull Ophelia, but the rest of the cast is solid, and most of them refreshingly recite Shakespeare's text like regular Americans (the exception being Liev Schreiber's Laertes, with his good but out-of-place enunciation).
Given such a serviceable cast, how does Almereyda himself fare in his adaptation? Poorly. He has cut enormous chunks from the play – out of necessity, perhaps (God save us from another 4-hour version like Kenneth Branagh's), but he seems to have cut out too much for his own good. He even shuffles a couple of scenes around in hopes of getting his story back on track, but he's unable to cover up his gravest error: he actually believes that Hamlet is a depressed and suicidal character, which ignores the story's crucial point that Hamlet is merely putting on an "antic disposition" – that is, acting crazy – so that the royal court will ignore him as he seeks to uncover the plot behind his kingly father's murder.
Because of this misinterpretation, we are given a sad and mopey Hamlet – an inactive Hamlet – and thus an inactive first half of the film. Finally, when the Prince decides to test the King's guilt (here the play-within-a-play has been craftily updated as an experimental film), things wake up. But by then I'd given up hope that this Hamlet would reinvigorate Shakespeare's text. Read the play instead.