Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John (Sean Maher). Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato's daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice (Amy Acker), the governor's niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage. In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark), plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins. A series of comic... Written by
I should preface this with the statement that I enjoy Whedon's work. I was excited to see how he would direct actors from his previous series. I was especially excited about this being a play with which I was already very familiar. I also make allowances for the fact that it was filmed in a particular fashion, within a particular timeline, for particular reasons. I know that makes it "arty" and critically or technically better.
That all being said, I found the film lackluster on several counts:
First, the acting seemed flat. Shakespeare (the comedies in particular) is supposed to be bigger than life. It is supposed to be over-acted in some respects. The characters in this version act in a rather flat way, almost as if they are afraid of showing too much emotion.
In some ways, this may be because the actors chosen were not necessarily ones who fit those particular roles. I liked all of the actors in other roles. Nathan Fillion, for example, would have made a wonderful Benedick. Amy Acker, similarly, seemed ill suited for the role of Beatrice and might have played a far better Hero.
Second, and perhaps this was specific to the theater in which I watched the film, but the sound seemed rather flat. That may even have been choice, but the sounds just didn't seem very layered.
Third, hearing Shakespearean dialogue done with a purposefully plain American accent is a bit harsh on the ears. That may sound petty, but the choices Shakespeare made regarding word order fit a British accent far better than an English accent.
Finally... I really had a tough time with the setting. I don't mind a Shakespearean comedy being staged in a non-traditional context. In fact, I am very receptive of it. Unfortunately, this particular setting didn't really work. Don John has been apparently arrested for "standing out against his brother," but he gets free run of an estate. He is a guest of a government who cannot afford actual handcuffs, just zip-ties. This is just one example of how the setting didn't really seem fitting.
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