I've never seen Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" acted out on stage, nor have I read it. I don't know what makes a truly inspiring adaptation of the play work, but this latest version is surprisingly well done. Given the star power contained within it's amazing that this movie didn't attract more attention.
Al Pacino stars as Shylock, the angry Jew who becomes outraged to the point of murderous revenge when a Christian merchant named Antonio (Jeremy Irons) defaults on a debt. Amidst a blossoming relationship between a courtier (Joseph Fiennes) and beautiful heiress (Lynn Collins), Shylock takes his contract to Venetian court - where he intends to hold up the wording of the document that states Antonio shall give a pound of his flesh upon defaulting on the loan. Ah, this is Shakespeare at its finest.
Pacino also turns in one of his best performances of recent years. Since the mid-to-late nineties, I've become a bit disenchanted with Pacino, not because of his movie choices but because of his tendency to shout his way through performances. It works at times, but every once in a while you have to tone it down. And here, he does. While this isn't Pacino at his finest, it is still vintage Pacino - he's steady throughout and fits into the role perfectly.
The rest of the cast also deliver good performances. Irons doesn't get that much screen time, but Fiennes once again proves that he deserves more recognition (why wasn't he nominated for "Shakespeare in Love" again?). Collins, the least known actor among the group, also turns in a sturdy performance as Portia.
The film also has a nice quality. Many of these period pieces often look the same and rather one-dimensional, but director Michael Radford has brought old Venice to life with gritty realism. There is nothing extraordinary about the work, but at the same time it feels natural.
If you like Shakespeare, then this adaptation of "The Merchant of Venice" is well worth a watching. If you don't like Shakespeare, then you've probably stopped reading already.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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