In 16th century Venice, when a merchant must default on a large loan from an abused Jewish moneylender for a friend with romantic ambitions, the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead.
On the day that a serial killer that he helped put away is supposed to be executed, a noted forensic psychologist and college professor receives a call informing him that he has 88 minutes left to live.
It's a hot summer day in 1933 in South Philly, where 12-year old Gennaro lives with his widowed mom and his ailing grandpa, who sits outside holding tight to his last quarter, which he's ... See full summary »
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio,
Venice, 1596. Melancholy Antonio loves the youthful Bassanio, so when Bassanio asks for 3000 ducats, Antonio says yes before knowing it's to sue for the hand of Portia. His capital tied up in merchant ships at sea, Antonio must go to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender he reviles. Shylock wraps his grudge in kindness, offering a three-month loan at no interest, but if not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of flesh. The Jew's daughter elopes with a Christian, whetting Shylock's hatred. While Bassanio's away wooing Portia, Antonio's ships founder, and Shylock demands his pound of flesh. With court assembled and a judgment due, Portia swings into action to save Bassanio's friend.Written by
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Intolerance of the Jews was a fact of 16th Century life even in Venice, the most powerful and liberal city state in Europe.
By law the Jews were forced to live in the old walled foundry or 'Geto' area of the city. After sundown the gate was locked and guarded by Christians
In the daytime any man leaving the ghetto had to wear a red hat to mark him as a Jew.
Man in Crowd:
The Jews were forbidden to own property. So they practised usury, the lending of money at interest. This was ...
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I saw this film as a sneak preview before the Venice opening at the Telluride Film Festival. Your reaction to it will largely depend on your attitude about respecting the text of Shakespeare. On the plus side: Pacino gives a very good performance indeed as Shylock; Lynn Collins is a fine Portia; and the film has a sumptuous look.
The negatives are predictable. "The Merchant of Venice" is arguably the most difficult of all of Shakespeare's plays to stage today, largely because we look at it through the distorting lens of 20th century history. The romantic plot with Bassanio and Portia presents no problem. The character of Shylock does, because we lack the original frame of reference of the Elizabethan audience. Shylock is simultaneously a human character with human qualities and motivations, and an abstraction of the pitiless quality of the Old Law. When he says "Hath not a Jew eyes?" he is a character; when he proclaims "I will have my bond!" he is an abstraction. The long passage on music and cosmic harmony in the final scene (here moved and cut to ribbons) is the key to the play, in that it re-establishes universal harmony after the disruptive and evil (the Shylock of the trial scene) forces are ejected. It is possible to make psychological sense of the character of Shylock by showing his gradually going mad and turning into a monomaniac by the time the trial scene rolls around--the key is that at a point he must cease being sympathetic.
Pacino's performance almost does it, but not quite. The film can't quite make up its mind--on the one hand, there is the right movement in the character of Shylock, and on the other there is a great deal of extraneous footage of Jews being abused and Venetian whores with rouged nipples (no doubt to show the decadence of Antonio et al). Shakespeare was not writing an Ibsen-like social drama; he was writing a comedy following the classic pattern of disruption of social order and the restoration of social order, symbolized by marriage, with a theme of love versus law at the center of the Shylock plot.
In this sense, the film is a travesty--Radford's surgery on the play and direction almost force us away from what the play really means. (Taking the beginning of the final scene, cutting most of it, and moving it before the trial scene is the most extreme example.) There are some other significant difficulties. Jeremy Irons, a fine actor, plays Antonio as if he were overdosed on sedatives. Joseph Fiennes is pretty but shallow as Bassanio. Most of the actors, with the exceptions of Collins, Pacino, and the actor playing the Duke in the trial scene, mumble their dialogue.
Final verdict? A pretty film with a few decent performances. It's not Shakespeare, it's poor interpretation. Not really worth your time or money--although Lynn Collins as Portia almost redeems it.
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