“If vigor were all in acting Shakespeare, Jude Law would be a gold medal Hamlet,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Playing the Prince of Denmark in director Michael Grandage’s bold modern-dress production, the gadabout film actor attacks the role with the “focus, determination, and adrenaline level of an Olympic track competitor staring down a line of hurdles.” Unlike many other film stars, even in person Law is an actor of “undeniable charisma.” But portraying the most famously indecisive character in all of English literature requires not only energy but range. Law often sprints over the character’s subtleties, seldom seeming to look inward, and seeming “way too active for a hero known for inaction.”
It’s true that Law isn’t “the most emotionally piercing or philosophically profound Hamlet” ever to grace the stage, said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. But he does provide “enough deft psychological touches to make this a memorable re-encounter” with a Shakespearean staple. There’s a “logical soundness” lurking beneath the actor’s manic portrayal—at times, his performance calls to mind the critic William Hazlitt’s description of Hamlet as a character of “high enthusiasm and quick sensibility.” It’s gripping to watch his Hamlet “puzzle out the right thing to do among a set of wrong possibilities.”
The rest of Grandage’s Hamlet, however, is a “mixed bag,” said David Rooney in Variety. The supporting cast is inconsistent. Kevin R. McNally “earns points” for not being too “blatantly sinister” as Hamlet’s uncle-turned-stepfather, Claudius. But he too often strays in the other direction, removing any sense of threat. As Ophelia, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is lovely to look at, but otherwise “leaves a blank impression.” And Geraldine James’ “crisp but colorless” take on Gertrude gives us little insight into the queen’s “divided loyalties.” Though the production’s imagery can certainly be arresting—as when Law delivers Hamlet’s “To be or not to be …” soliloquy beneath a light snowfall—the monochromatic sets and costumes are not just dull but “visually dour.” This is an accessible Hamlet, but it’s seldom a moving one.