May 22, 2000 12:00 PM

Ethan Hawke, Diane Venora, Kyle MacLachlan, Julia Stiles, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber

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To paraphrase one of the better known soliloquies from William Shakespeare’s triumph, what a piece of work is Hamlet. Directors and actors can twist it, pummel it and gussy it up, and still the beauty of the play’s language and the power of its story shine through.

This latest Hamlet is a case in point. Director-adapter Michael Almereyda’s film deposits the dialectical Dane (Hawke, who is sullen and flat, proving yet again that he is best at projecting hurt) in today’s money-mad Manhattan. This Hamlet is a video artist who dresses in black and is hell-bent on solving the murder of his business-mogul father (Sam Shepard), who headed the mighty Denmark Corporation. The happy surprise is how well Almereyda’s hypermodern concept works, making you rethink and rehear the play. This shouldn’t be anyone’s first Hamlet; the text is too abridged, and most of the performances are undistinguished (though Murray excels as Polonius, playing him as a corporate weasel). But for those already familiar with the tragedy, the change in setting makes revisiting the sweet prince all the sweeter. (R)

Bottom Line: Dane-omite!

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