The Merchant of Venice (2004)

merchantofvenice_2004_poster
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
  • Time: 138 min
  • Genre: Drama | Romance
  • Director: Michael Radford
  • Cast: Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Jeremy Irons

Storyline:

Venice, 1596. Melancholy Antonio loves the youthful Bassanio, so when Bassanio asks for 3000 ducats, Antonio says yes before knowing it’s to sue for the hand of Portia. His capital tied up in merchant ships at sea, Antonio must go to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender he reviles. Shylock wraps his grudge in kindness, offering a three-month loan at no interest, but if not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of flesh. The Jew’s daughter elopes with a Christian, whetting Shylock’s hatred. While Bassanio’s away wooing Portia, Antonio’s ships founder, and Shylock demands his pound of flesh. With court assembled and a judgment due, Portia swings into action to save Bassanio’s friend.

One review

  • ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is one of the most complex plays of Shakespeare and at the same time one of the more problematic to stage or screen. Dealing with the Jewish problem in the 16th century was certainly a daring deed and the story of the Jewish money-lender taking revenge on the Christian merchant and losing all his possessions, faith and maybe soul in the process was many times read as anti-Semitic. Yet I believe that one needs to read the play in the context of Shakespeare’s time. There was wide-spread antisemitism in Europe by that time, and the play certainly reflects many of the stereotypes about Jews. On the other hand Shakespeare gives a credible human justification to the behavior of Shylock and does not paint him all in black. Also, it is probably the first really complex Jewish character in the whole world literature. Shakespeare did explain not only the feelings of a human being oppressed because of his origins and religion, but also some of the problems Jewish people have to face until today like the fear of losing their faith or having their children lose their faith through inter-marriage. This is even more amazing as Shakespeare probably never met a Jew in his life, because Jews were forbidden to live in England during the rule of Queen Elisabeth I.

    Amazingly this is the first screen adaptation of the play since the time of the silent movies, excepting the BBC adaptations. Michael Radford, a director I will always love for his ‘Il Postino’ faces the challenges of any director trying to do Shakespeare. The rhetoric of the beautiful Shakespearean language falls heavy in the ears of the contemporary viewers and the pace of the action is not really what the ’24 Hours’ series generation is used to. His focus on the background of the intrigue, his colorful camera rendition of the 16th century Venice and especially his relying on the complexity of his characters succeed to a large extent in creating a film experience that is interesting and enjoyable.

    Al Pacino as Shylock? Well, I confess I find Pacino better and better with every film he is making. Here he succeeds to keep the balance between the apparent moral cruelty of the character and the deeply human reasons of his actions, without ever falling into melodrama. Yet, I had the feeling that sometimes Pacino acts like being on stage, or maybe I would prefer seeing him on stage for this role. Jeremy Irons as the merchant Alfonso cannot be better because he is always perfect in my eyes, and finds here a role that matches the deep melancholy of the majority of the roles that he is playing.

    While it’s not easy to do Shakespeare today, and doing Shakespeare that speaks to the audiences of such a different world than the one the Bard lived is even more a challenge, here we have a creation that succeeds to meet the expectations for most of the time.

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