13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Sure beats my credit card's terms,
This review is from: Merchant of Venice [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
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.