Jamie Kennedy's favorite movie review site
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.51%
Worth A Look67.57%
Just Average: 18.92%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

Latest Reviews

Prisoners of the Lost Universe by Jack Sommersby

Stand Alone by Jack Sommersby

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm by Rob Gonsalves

Playing with Fire by Jack Sommersby

Dragnet by Jack Sommersby

Keep the Change by Jack Sommersby

Suspect by Jack Sommersby

Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something by Rob Gonsalves

Trial of the Chicago 7, The by Rob Gonsalves

St. Elmo's Fire by Jack Sommersby

subscribe to this feed

Merchant of Venice, The (2004)
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by EricDSnider

"A solid production of a very difficult play."
4 stars

No one is eager to perform "The Merchant of Venice" anymore for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. The play itself, set in the time period in which it was written, probably accurately reflects the way Jews were treated, and of course modern audiences understand that some of its elements are, shall we say, dated. Still, if a theater were TOO excited about producing the play, people would get suspicious, the same as you'd raise an eyebrow if someone were really keen on doing "Springtime for Hitler." So new stagings are always accompanied by director's notes disclaiming the play's contemptible undertones: "The play is a brilliant examination of justice and mercy, blah blah blah, even though Shakespeare kinda hated the Jews, blah blah blah, we don't endorse the anti-Semitism, we're being forced to do the play, someone has us at gunpoint, blah blah blah."

So I admire Michael Radford ("Il Postino") for adapting and directing this new film version, for taking the stand that the play IS a brilliant examination of justice and mercy, and that those qualities outweigh whatever anti-Semitic themes are to be found (many of which can be downplayed or eliminated anyway, through careful adapting, directing and acting). There is no sense in throwing the baby out with the bathwater: "The Merchant of Venice" is a not a perfect play, but it is a good one. And the same can be said for Radford's version of it.

He begins, of course, with title cards reminding the viewer that "intolerance of Jews was a fact of life" in Venice in 1596, in case anyone unfamiliar with the play's history has wandered into the theater. From there the adaptation is fairly straightforward, with Shakespeare's dialogue intact except for some streamlining elisions.

Shylock (Al Pacino) is a wealthy Jewish merchant and moneylender to whom Antonio (Jeremy Irons) goes for a loan when his young friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) needs money to woo his beloved (and wealthy) Portia (Lynn Collins). Bassanio, young and foolish, has no good credit left. Antonio, his mentor and bosom chum -- and the film suggests their chumminess was indeed bosomy -- is older and more responsible, and has ships at sea this very moment carrying out his business and bringing him back income.

However, Antonio and Shylock have a history, the former frequently spitting on the latter when they meet in the street. The loan is therefore not to be carried out between friends, but is strictly a business arrangement. Shylock insists on an eccentric contract: If Antonio cannot repay the 3,000-ducat loan by a certain date, Shylock shall be permitted to cut off a pound of his flesh as payment. Knowing his ships will return with plenty of money from their pursuits, Antonio agrees to the weird terms, seeing it as nothing more than a crazy old Jew being odd just for the sake of being odd.

And then the ships fail, and Antonio is broke.

I leave it for those who have not seen or read the play to discover what happens next -- it really is suspenseful, if you don't already know the outcome, and Radford plays up that aspect marvelously -- and move onto the subject of Bassanio and Portia. She is one of Shakespeare's many heroines who dress up as men, miraculously fooling everyone they meet, in order to perform works of spying or good deeds. In Portia's case, it's the latter, and that's where I wish Radford had cast someone more charismatic and powerful than Lynn Collins, who is lovely but an unremarkably actress. Her chemistry with Joseph Fiennes is practically zero. (Cate Blanchett was originally cast in the role, and I have to believe she'd have been exponentially more powerful.)

As Shylock, Al Pacino has the most noticeable role, if not the one with the most screen time. He's good, too, a mix of typical Al Pacino over-the-top "Hoo-ahh!"-ism and down-to-earth real acting. In his hands, Shylock is both sympathetic and despicable, often simultaneously, as he bemoans his persecution, misses his daughter Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson) who has run off with a Christian man ... but also misses his money, and makes things infinitely worse for himself by insisting on fulfilling the macabre terms of the contract. He's a contradictory character, which is another reason the play isn't performed much: It's hard for an actor to play the role believably. Pacino manages it.

Radford's direction is swift and confident, and 16th-century Italy looks beautiful, a near-perfect re-creation of the sumptuous costumes, streets and manners of the time. There is, at last, a definitive film version of this play, flawed in parts but mostly timeless.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10537&reviewer=247
originally posted: 03/13/05 18:42:31
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/18/08 Pamela White very good adaptatio of Shkespeare 5 stars
8/11/06 amar Its nice 3 stars
5/19/06 Matt Levandowski strikingly good adaptation of shakespeare 4 stars
11/16/05 Childs I was disappointed that Radford didn't take the Shakespearean audience into consideration. 4 stars
11/13/05 Kate Bush good adaption 4 stars
7/05/05 Taylor Fladgate Awesome! A great adaptation. 5 stars
4/01/05 malcolm i'm a shakespeare and pacino fan. how could i not like it? 4 stars
3/03/05 diana Superb performancs by all, Al Pacino was just wonderful, the scenery was devine art. 5 stars
2/09/05 David Bennett Interesting angle...nicely done film 4 stars
2/03/05 KRISHA JEANS I LIKE IT..... 4 stars
1/02/05 UMER great acting by everyone 5 stars
11/10/04 Serena Excellent adaptation and a must see 5 stars
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  29-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 10-May-2005



Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 
Privacy Policy | | HBS Inc. |   
All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast