Tuesday, March 01, 2011
#71: The Merchant of Venice
Michael Radford, the Oscar-nominated director for Il Postino, put together an adaptation of this classic Shakespearean play for film in 2004. Wikipedia lists this as the first full-length sound film adaptation of a Shakespeare play since most other versions were videotaped for television. What I can vouch for sure is that director Michael Redford keeps the dialogues very close to the actual material of the play thus giving it a very authentic 17th century feel with phrases such as 'Hear thee', 'inexecreable cur' amongst others. It would be fair to admit that if you studied in ICSE in India, the movie is a constant throwback to the Selina Publishers textbook of the play that you would've had in the X Std.
While The Merchant of Venice counts as a comedy in Shakespearean history, there is an unmistakeable layer of tragedy that strikes the two key characters in the play. In one of the first opening scenes we learn how Antonio (Jeremy Irons)is 'aweary of the world' and Shylock (Al Pacino), a moneylending jew is reviled on the street because of the nature of his trade. Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) and Portia (Lynn Collins) complete the main cast. The humor in the play is derived from the quibbles between the supporting characters of Gratiano, Salerio and Lancelot. While the film is extremely faithful to the play's content, director Michael Redford makes a slight tweak in presenting the context of the play in the beginning of the movie. So we're told about how even in a city as liberal as Venice the Jews were looked down upon by Christians. Consequently, Shylock's action in extracting his pound of flesh while cruel, is given a strong and a justifiable reasoning of revenge.
This particular definition of context makes the movie rich in it's form. Al Pacino as Shylock delivers an outstanding performance. His mannerisms, motivations and his sense of humor are touched upon with such grace by Pacino's skills that the director's objective to present Shylock as a victim is effortlessly achieved. Al Pacino delivers nothing less than a spell of magic in the scene in which he asks a judge about the difference between a Christian and Jew. Jeremy Irons is the other noteworthy performer in the movie. Irons' brooding portrayal of Antonio is disarmingly simple and moving. Joseph Fiennes and Lynn Collins fail to impress in their roles except putting on the right costumes.
The story obviously has it's share of humor, drama and romance like any Shakespearean comedy but this movie is all about Al Pacino. Very early in the movie when Shylock cunningly tricks Antonio into signing an unusual bond, we know the plot is set. Al Pacino then elevates the viewing experience with his performance making this one well worth your time.