on December 15, 1995 by Kim Williamson
   Much as some actors divine a character's "color" to play a role, Irene Jacob ("Red") has said she chooses a fragrance for each part she portrays. But in this adaptation of Shakespeare's drama--about a warrior Moor, Othello (Laurence Fishburne, the first black to do the role onscreen), who despite social resistance marries a white Venetian noblewoman, Desdemona (Jacob), only to be undone by the lying wiles of trusted aide Iago (Kenneth Branagh)--Jacob's performance seems to evaporate onscreen. In amending the Bard, debut writer/director Oliver Parker has sought to increase the play's emotional tragedy by emphasizing Desdemona's affection and suffering, but that centering conceit falters in her hands. The result, simply put, is that one never believes their bond; the outward oratory is there, but not enough of the inner passion.
   As Othello, Fishburne smolders, first with love, then hate. Despite cutting about half the original text, however, Parker keeps a number of scenes in which the Moor denigrates his wife, and the repetitiveness of the complaints undercuts the warrior's stature; Othello should be majesty brought low, not a whiner revealed. Coming to the rescue is Branagh, whose ability to breathe the Bard allows him to speak his lines with the casual air of real life. His zesty Iago becomes the film's centerpiece, even if the schemer's machinations remain, as always, unsupported by just cause; Iago has something of a serial killer about him that takes away from the drama's emotional crosscurrents. Yet, even if not on par with Orson Welles' or Laurence Olivier's incarnations, this "Othello" is a more than modest addition to Shake-spearean cinema.    Starring Laurence Fishburne, Irene Jacob and Kenneth Branagh. Directed and written by Oliver Parker. Produced by Luc Roeg and David Barron. A Columbia release. Drama. Rated R for some sexuality. Running time: 125 min.
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