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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sure beats my credit card's terms
After the high school English Lit experience, I've never been a Shakespeare fan, so I've rarely seen any of those of his works that've been put on film. Mired in the bliss of almost total ignorance, I'll yet foolishly suggest that this Big Screen THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is perhaps the most sumptuous cinematic adaptation of any of the Bard's plays to date.
If you're...
Published on 27 Dec 2005 by Joseph Haschka

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46 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How not to bring Shakespeare to the cinema
A deeply disappointing effort. Shakespeare's humane and magnificent drama is reduced to a dull and sordid costume show. Its wit is extinguished and its poetry muffled. The actors do not speak the lines - they simply mumble the words. Every character is impoverished: Portia is robbed of her intelligence; Bassanio of his chivalry; and Shylock of his miserliness and malice...
Published on 15 Jun 2005


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sure beats my credit card's terms, 27 Dec 2005
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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After the high school English Lit experience, I've never been a Shakespeare fan, so I've rarely seen any of those of his works that've been put on film. Mired in the bliss of almost total ignorance, I'll yet foolishly suggest that this Big Screen THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is perhaps the most sumptuous cinematic adaptation of any of the Bard's plays to date.
If you're completely without Cultcha and you don't know the plot, it's late 16th century Venice and the import-export merchant Antonio (Jeremy Irons) borrows 3,000 gold ducats from the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino). The money goes to Antonio's chum Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes), who'll use it to impress and win the hand of the Babe of his dreams, the orphaned heiress Portia (Lynn Collins). But, Antonio suffers ruinous business setbacks and can't repay. So Shylock, remembering the public contempt shown to him by Antonio in the past and recently humiliated by the desertion of his only daughter to a Christian lover, insists that Antonio pay the penalty stipulated in the terms of the loan agreement, i.e. a pound of his own flesh, literally. And Shylock is prepared to go to the Duke's court to argue the legality of his case under existing Venetian statutes. Things look bleak and potentially painful for Antonio.
Filmed in Luxembourg and the decaying glory of Venice, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is an extraordinarily lavish feast for the eyes. At times, as I found myself losing the thread of Shakespeare's flowery dialog, I found immense satisfaction in the production's glorious costuming and sets.
Pacino, who, in the past decade, has played cops, the Devil, a pro football coach, and a blind lecher, steals the show with an Oscar-worthy performance. He's perfect as the world-weary, embittered, vengeful loan shark literally and figuratively spat upon by the city's Christian majority. Indeed, the film's creators have done a superb job depicting a Jewish usurer's anachronistic social position in that time and place, i.e. both needed and despised at the same time. And Collins is a revelation as the clever and beautiful Portia, the one character in the piece with any brains compared to the hormone-driven and doltish males around her.
Besides the obvious lessons of the story, which are don't co-sign a loan with your best friend, don't play loose with your wedding ring, and always go for the cheaply wrapped gift box, I was left pondering the perceived anti-Semitism of the plot. Indeed, had the play not been written by Shakespeare, and thus considered a "classic", but rather something churned out by a Tinseltown hack and put on celluloid, the Political Correctness Police, regardless of the historical facts, would be howling about stereotyping to a degree that would perhaps dwarf the outcry over Mel Gibson's PASSION. The joyful prospect of that alone makes this a film worth seeing.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth seeing just for Pacino's Shylock, 3 Aug 2006
This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Al Pacino delivers a stunning performance as the humiliated, embittered Shylock coming back to claim his own with a vengeance. It's worth watching the film just to hear his anger reverberating in the courtyards of the rich mansions of intolerant Christians. We feel compassion and even some slight justification for his desire for Antonio's heart; however, the director makes sure that the sympathy is balanced and though initially I could understand Shylock's fury, his own stubborn lack of mercy saves him from a complete humiliation...if it wasn't for Shylock's dark, relentless side I don't think his fate could possibly have been acceptable to a 21st century audience.

What I didn't like was the fact that Jessica did not shine as brightly as she could have, her role being cut considerably to make room for Portia and Bassanio. At the same time, the Portia - Bassanio bits dragged on for too long, with excessive music interludes during which nothing at all happened; this simply slowed the pace down unnecessarily and chould have been cut down slightly to keep the audience's interest up. Don't get me wrong, the music was beautiful, it was just too long and the pace suffocated as a result.

Overall though, a film well worth watching - whether you like Shakespeare or not, it addresses issues of religion, race and nationality so relevant today, once again proving that Shakespeare is timeless!
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172 of 192 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT PRODUCTION AND GREAT CAST MAKE "MERCHANT" MUST SEE, 19 Feb 2005
By 
F. Sweet (Midwestern USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
"The Merchant of Venice" has undoubtedly become the most controversial play in Shakespeare's repertoire. Therefore, the first task of any modern adaptation is confronting the anti-Jewish bigotry that moves its plot and informs its poetry.
Director Michael Radford approaches the problem of Shylock (Al Pacino) by placing the character in context. This is accomplished by early making clear to us that the story takes place in "Venice, 1596." Although Shakespeare would not have announced this as the actors took their places on the stage of The Globe Theater, the movie's titles offer background about the marginal status and civic oppression of that city's Jewish population. Of course, just as in other parts of Europe, Venetian Jews were forced to practice usury because they were legally barred from most other ways of earning a living. In 1596, lending money at interest -- vital in the economy of the city-state and its merchants -- was something Christians wouldn't be caught dead doing. At the time, pimping and prostitution were considered much loftier occupations.
Still, none of this explains Shylock's character. Nor does it soften the taint of blood libel in Shakespeare's play. The only real choices for Radford were either to simply not to make "The Merchant of Venice" or to permit its uglier qualities to continue to complicate its wonderful rhetoric and brilliant examination of law, loyalty, the ethics of making promises -- and even issues of empathy, sympathy, and mercy. Redford decided to make the movie.
The movie has a bumpy beginning. Well of course, Shakespeare's 16th century dramas take longer in getting to the point than do 21st centiry movies. Today's audiences are used to having everything defined and in place after the first 10 minutes. But Radford, who wrote the screenplay, succeeds in making the story's complexities clear and vigorous. Too many modern productions of Shakespeare's plays push them into a contrived modern setting or chase after an irrelevant authenticity. But Radford [vitally aided by production designer Bruno Rubeo and the unbelievably talented cinematographer Benoît Delhomme] ingeniously bring us Shakespeare through the eyes of his artistic peers and contemporaries.
In this rendering of "The Merchant ...," Shylock's tragic grief is emphasized more than his predatory viciousness. His estrangement from the other characters makes sense because Shylock is, after all, an outsider who delivers much rougher verses than do his privileged, establishment Christian antagonists.
A depressed Antonio, the titled merchant, is quietly made to penetrate our consciousness by Joseph Fiennes, as his young friend Bassanio (whose courtship of Portia causes Antonio to mortgage his infamous pound of flesh to Shylock), speaks his lines beautifully. Fiennes is, nevertheless, upstaged by Kris Marshall, his feisty second, Gratiano, and also by Lynn Collins. She brings a radiant authority to her portrayal of Portia. Collins' charisma is vital for Radford in making his movie-play effective. Portia must convincingly both be a shrewd seductress and also an exacting ethicist. Her defeat of Shylock is among the great courtroom scenes in recent movies -- presented as an intense, emotionally boiling cauldron of cruelty and beauty. Like most of the rest of Radford's carefully creative interpretation of this impossible play, his Portia comes across with fresh dramatic intensity -- while her well lighted and photographed beauty are a banquet for our eyes.
Shakespeare's "Merchant" was trimmed by Radford to a manageable movie length and, for the most part, it is faithful in letter and spirit to the original play. Radford's 21st century version is exciting and completely entertaining -- and you won't want to miss it.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I wish I had read the play before watching the film, 22 July 2005
By 
Daniel Jolley "darkgenius" (Shelby, North Carolina USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
Having watched this film, methinks one is best served by reading Shakespeare's play before watching this adaptation of it. I've always liked and truly appreciated Shakespeare, and never before have I found myself saying "huh" after certain lines of dialogue, but certain parts of this film quite lost me - to a large extent, I think, this is due to the fact that an infernal number of lines are whispered and hard to pick up, let alone translate from Shakespearean English to modern English. I also had trouble early on distinguishing between two of the male characters (they both had the same grubby, long hairstyle). And then you've got characters donning and doffing hideous masks left and right, which doesn't help either. I had no trouble following the principal storyline, but this film left me with questions concerning some of the minor subplots - had I read the play beforehand, I'm sure these questions would not nag me. The film does feature wonderful cinematography and some really strong actors and actresses in the main roles, and the most crucial scene vibrates with suspense and nervous energy, but I think it plays much, much better to those already familiar with the play.
This is an immensely complicated story that leaves you with much food for thought. Al Pacino is incredible as Shylock, imbuing his character with power and vehemence that comes off the screen in waves. I find myself quite torn in my appraisal of Shylock; he is both victim and devil, and Pacino captures his dual nature to outstanding effect. As a Jew living in 16th century Venice, Shylock (like all of his people) was cruelly treated and persecuted for his race and faith. One can certainly understand why he tried to exact revenge on one of the wealthy Christians who treated him worse than a dog and personally spat upon him a mere week before coming ask him for a loan. The situation with his daughter then threw oil on an already burning fire. Shylock wants revenge, and he has the merchant Antonio (Jeremy Irons) at his mercy, for some ill-timed shipwrecks prevent the far from noble Christian from repaying his debt. The bond, of course, states that Shylock can extract a pound of his flesh in payment, and Shylock zealously sets out to take Antonio's heart and will be dissuaded by no one. His race and religion render him all but powerless, so he lusts for the opportunity to legally extract a most bitter revenge. Shylock is best summed up in his famous "do we not bleed?" speech - even the court scenes toward the end cannot match the power of that incredible speech.
The reason Antonio secured the loan in the first place was to enable his young friend to sail to the manor of a fair, rich young lady whose betrothal is basically up for sale - to whomever solves what is basically a puzzle. There are three small caskets with different clues, and whoever makes the right choice wins the hand of Portia (a perfectly enchanting Lynn Collins). Several ill-matched suitors fail (much to Portia's relief) before Antonio arrives to take his chance. The problem with this is the fact that any idiot would know which casket to choose, as it is blatantly obvious. Portia goes on to play an integral role in Antonio's final appeal, introducing yet another somewhat ridiculous aspect to the story. The movie doesn't end there, however, as it carries through another new subplot that, in my mind, renders the most dramatic moments of the film anticlimactic - and that's why the movie is well over two hours long.
I really must read Shakespeare's play now because I do want to clear up, if I can, some of the ambiguities I am left with after watching the film. The central story surrounding Shylock, Antonio, and the bond is very powerful, but those subplots and my difficulty understanding some of the often-whispered dialogue did impede my enjoyment of this particular film as a whole.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!, 25 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
One of my favourite Shakespeare plays, confronting prejudice, hatred and revenge head-on. Pacino is outstanding. Venice too, is stunning. A must!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good production, 2 Feb 2013
By 
Mike Heron (Truro, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
I bought this, principally, out of curiosity about Pacino's portrayal of Shylock. I am pleased to say that his performance and the production as a whole are excellent. Pacino's portrayal is low key and all the more powerful especially when he receives his come uppance. I always felt Shylock got a raw deal and this performance underlines that. The courtroom scene was gripping. Jeremy Irons (Antonio)really conveyed the horror of a man about to die in a barbaric way. Highly recommended.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hollywood shakespeare is better than okay, 3 May 2006
This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
I've seen the film and read the reviews written here and I wonder whether we have all seen the same production.

If you want to see High Culture Shakespeare then you go to Stratford, throw an stick, hit six theatres, pick one and you'll see all the strutting and posing your little heart could desire.

If you want a "lite" version then this is one of the better filmed productions of the Bard.

The costumes are rich, the talent undeniable - Pacino, Irons and a Fiennes in your living room for under a tenner.

However, read the play before you watch the film and you'll understand it a bit better, then, after watching the film, go read the play again, then watch the film and it will all fall into place. Just like your teachers said it would
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This 'Merchant' sold me!, 22 May 2005
By 
Mrs. Sheila M. H. Baggott "SheCat" (Bromsgrove, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
I thoroughly enjoyed this version of Shakespeares' Merchant of Venice. Sumptuously costumed and breahtakingly staged it caught the imagination. The acting was excellent, my only quibble was that Jeremy Irons seemed to speak very softly at times but that was only a minor fault, his portrayal of Antonio and his deep affection for Bassanio came over very well bringing out facets of this relationship that I had never seen before. Previously I have not been enamoured of Al Pacino but he was superb as Shylock, again showing me things that I had not realised were there. The ladies were also well served, I had always understood Portia because I have played her on stage myself (Miss Collins does not have to look to her laurels)but again the depth of perception amazed me. I could go on raving about this production but space forbids, I can only say it is well worth viewing.
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46 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How not to bring Shakespeare to the cinema, 15 Jun 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
A deeply disappointing effort. Shakespeare's humane and magnificent drama is reduced to a dull and sordid costume show. Its wit is extinguished and its poetry muffled. The actors do not speak the lines - they simply mumble the words. Every character is impoverished: Portia is robbed of her intelligence; Bassanio of his chivalry; and Shylock of his miserliness and malice. Pacino is watchable as Shylock, but the only authentic Shakespearian performance is by David Harewood as the Prince of Morocco.
And the film simply misses the point of Shylock's tragedy. Of course we disapprove of the anti-semitism of the film's Venetians - but they are just a bunch of lager-louts. The anti-semitism of Shakespeare's refined and civilised courtiers, who do not appear in this film, is far more alarming. Of course we feel compassion for Pacino's Shylock - who would not feel compassion for a respectable man labouring under oppression? But our compassion is stretched further and our humanity more deeply engaged when we find ourselves feeling compassion for Shakespeare's malicious miser, who has been airbrushed from this production.
What is the point of trying to bring Shakespeare to a wider audience if you don't trust him to hold the audience's attention by the power of his poetry, if you reduce his complex characters to two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, and you don't trust the audience to listen to what he has to say?
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great drama, disappointing comedy., 27 Mar 2007
This review is from: The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] (DVD)
A great problem with Shakespeare comedies is that they are difficult to translate to the big screen. Whilst MOV is not, strictly speaking, a comedy perhaps (not sure if Ben Johnson classified it as such), it nevertheless is imbued with much comedy. The casket scenes with the unsuitable suitors, for example, offers an obvious occasion for humour as does the denouement - portia and nerissa's discovery of the traded rings.
This film adapation of MoV provides an example of the difficulties of transferring Shakespearean stage humour to the big screen - just the 'being there' element in theatre is a property essential to comedic tension which film adaptations lack.
For what this film version of MoV lacks in terms of the delivery of comedy, dramatically and visually speaking this film version is a treat - particularly in the courtroom scene while Pacino and Irons as the play's perhaps two most important characters are in fine form.

Al Pacino's shylock interpretation is played as a particularly miserable usurer Jew: an embittered wretch moulded by Venetian cruelty and oppression. His bargaining for the pound of flesh at the beginning of the play is suitably ambiguous regarding whether or not it is intended to be taken seriously and whether or not his offer to Antonio is in fact an act of generosity given that the loan, if repaid in time, would be interest free.
In this particular characterization of Shylock it is easy to sympathize with the character's need for revenge given that which befalls him thereafter, but his seeming complete inability to forgive during the courtroom scene makes us rather side with the ostensibly more merciful venetians again...until they decide to completely humiliate him and take half what he owns and forcibly convert him to Christianity. This sanctinomous treatment is suitably manifest in this film production with Portia shown to be the main instigator of a fairly aggressive form of Venetian justice.

The juxtaposition of Antonio and Shylock as extreme examples of venetian society is also clearly in evidence here. The former symbolizes unbounded generosity, even beyond his means; the latter symbolizes extreme tightness with all things monetary; both, however, are clearly afflicted with weltschmerz perhaps owing to their inability to find some measure of acceptance for that which represents the opposite to which they value most.
In this sense the friction between the two values, necessary for any democratic society to be functional and viable, is clearly expressed. The miserly and uncompromising usurer depends on the merchant, the unconditionally generous libertine merchant depends on the usurer, and the entire superficial liberal ethos of the rest of society depends on both - the scapegoat and the martyr.

The denouement is done well enough although, consistent with the general lack throughout the film, is short on comedy. We understand well enough the need for the new generation of venetians to grow to embrace the responsibility that is required of a democratic, open society in order for it to remain viable - a theme clearly resonant for modern western societies.
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The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004]
The Merchant of Venice [DVD] [2004] by Michael Radford (DVD - 2005)
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