on 3 August 2006
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!
on 19 February 2005
"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.
on 2 February 2013
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.
on 8 November 2013
For those like me who prefer their Shakespeare to have a bit more impact than a National Theatre production can offer then this is for you. Very visual and full of atmosphere filmed on location in Italy it's a delightful film which is totally gripping from start to finish and just demonstrates to the full what a magnificent cast has been assembled. Apart from the breathtaking performaces from Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons - just so good together as Shylock and the merchant, Lynn Collins performance as Portia is so beautifully created in every facet. Heartiest congratulations to all concerned - you have brought Shakespeare to life so briliantly well.
David Riley, Poole, Dorset
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.
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.
on 29 June 2014
I absolutely LOVED the play, so was very keen to watch this.
Pacino's portrayal of Shylock, the antagonist, is what makes the film so great. He perhaps strays slightly from the character, adding more of a sense of vulnerability than is conveyed in the play. Still, his acting generates real sympathy and interest for Shylock.
Portia, played by Lynn Collins, is played well and is truly beautiful - as required by the role. However. while she works well as witty Portia, as the young doctor later on, she seriously fails. She is far too feminine to play both parts.
Antonio (Jeremy Irons) is cast well but the other characters seem to have been rushed. Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) is good but differs greatly, I feel, from the play.
The film is enjoyable but just be aware that it skips lines and somewhat detracts from the originality of the humour in the play.
The Merchant of Venice is a 2004 romantic drama film based on Shakespeare's play. This was compulsory study in school and I wish I could have seen this film version then. While the story is necessarily simplified -as is much of the language [from memory], this makes it accessible to a wide range of people. The shots of Venice and the costumes really bring the story to life and whilst not strictly ‘to the book’ this does bring the musty tale to life. Portia’ [Lynn Collins] ’Quality of mercy’ speech really brings the meaning into focus.
I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting a good period piece, students of Shakespeare need to be cautious though, never-the-less a solid ***** enjoyable rating although it will not please everyone.
on 3 August 2012
I decided I should improve my knowledge of Shakespeare and ordered this on an 'educational' basis expecting to be slightly bored. How wrong could I be - it's stunning! It is acted out against a Venetian backdrop, not as a stage play, and so comes across as a real drama with real people. Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons are both brilliant - the diction is so clear and the acting so convincing that you are carried away with the plot without even realising it is 'Shakespearean' English. The two girls are a slightly weak link especially when pretending to be legal clerks near the end, but this does at least highlight the comedy in the play which is rarely discussed.
An absolutely brilliant buy and I would definitely recommend it.
on 3 May 2006
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