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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
PG
Cast
Al Pacino
Joseph Fiennes
Jeremy Irons
Kris Marshall
Zuleikha Robinson
Lynn Collins.
Directors
Michael Radford.
Screenwriters
Michael Radford.
Running Time
138 minutes

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The Merchant of Venice
Pacino is out for his pound of flesh


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Plot
In order to woo the lovely Portia, penniless Venetian gent Bassanio turns to his friend, successful merchant Antonio , to stump up a dowry. To insure the deal, they turn to Jewish lender Shylock, who, stung by years of abuse, demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh as collateral...


Review
Shakespeare, scholarly souls are prone to exclaim, is a writer for all seasons. Despite their period settings, his plays roil with subtexts and are as applicable today as they were at the lantern-lit Globe. So this seething morality tale of racial prejudice and greed has been adapted by Michael Radford to mirror the vices and cruelties of current times. As Radford's camera prowls the backstreets of Venice, we're swiftly informed how the Jews are coldly repressed, allowed only to deal in money and locked away in the 'geto' (ghetto) after dark. Shylock, who is visibly shunned and spat upon, is understandably a bitter man.

The play has always teetered between being a study of anti-Semitism and actually feeling anti-Semitic - a true product of its times - and Radford penetrates the dilemma with skill, delivering an incisive adaptation in the succulent, woody shades of Renaissance art and depicting a painted city where the rot has set in. Yet his film never sings. While he gauges the emotional turmoil intelligently, he treats the lighter, softer notes of the story -the familiar Shakespearean tableau of dainty misunderstandings, swooning romance and inevitable cross-dressing - as throwaway mechanics, impatiently awaiting the return of his leading man.

Pacino's Shylock, as you might expect, is the best reason to step inside. The character's always been a tough assignment, often reduced to a proto-Jackie Gleason in a smock, but Pacino revels in the money-lender's contradictions, playing him fierce and sympathetic, both victim and molester. It's a complex performance made effortless, as if those long-winded lines were born on his lips, not rehearsed from a well-thumbed Arden. While De Niro languishes in self-parody, Pacino remains as edgy and indelible a presence as he was as a young firebrand.

It's a shame that the more youthful cast members appear stiff and obvious by comparison. Fiennes, Collins and a well-meant Kris Marshall look as if they're bogged down with A-Level revision, leaving only Irons to hold any kind of candle to the main event.


Verdict
It veers from real conviction to panto, but Radford is clearly committed to the play's relevance, while Pacino, the Shakespeare addict, is a joy to watch.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Merchant of Venice
Empire Star Rating

Not one to ignore...

Pacino's performance is agreeably what makes this, one of Shakespeare's finest plays, something quite special. He gives the complex character the attention deserved with both menace and great sympathy whilst each line delivered perfectly. Filmed in occasionally stunning and sumptuous settings, The Merchant of Venice is not to be considered another costume drama. If any faults would be that perhaps some of the actors do not give the same believability, but there efforts are commendable. Althoug... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by trainedasninja at 02:07, 01 June 2012 | Report This Post


Flawed but wonderful

I might have a bias here, being both a Shakespeare addict myself and an Al Pacino addict to boot, but I know a boring Shakespeare performance when I see one - this film is very entertaining so long as you pay attention to what is actually being said. This is obviously where Shakespeare has lost a lot of modern fans - many people these days just don't (or won't) take the time to listen and understand the nuances. The ADHD generation are getting older and probably won't be able to understand (let ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MysteriousMartian at 19:25, 03 August 2009 | Report This Post


Flawed but wonderful

OK, I'll admit I might have a bit of a bias here, being both a Shakespeare addict myself and an Al Pacino addict to boot, but I know a boring Shakespeare performance when I see one and unlike the reviewer before me I did not find this film dull for a moment. It's very entertaining as long as you pay attention to what is being said and are willing to give it your full attention over an admittedly rather too long 130 minutes. But this is obviously where Shakespeare has sadly lost many potential m... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MysteriousMartian at 19:24, 03 August 2009 | Report This Post


Even though Shakespeare isn't my favourite thing in the world, I watched the film with an open mind and it isn't hard to get bored. Even with a classic array of actors the dialogue seems clunky it just goes to prove that Shakespeare doesn't fo silver screen. The film is made up for by a great performance from Pacino ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 17:38, 21 January 2008 | Report This Post


Even though Shakespeare isn't my favourite thing in the world, I watched the film with an open mind and it isn't hard to get bored. Even with a classic array of actors the dialogue seems clunky it just goes to prove that Shakespeare doesn't fo silver screen. The film is made up for by a great performance from Pacino ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 17:38, 21 January 2008 | Report This Post


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