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... Read allIn 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.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.
Like so many of Shakespeare's great tragic heroes, Shylock continues to fascinate after 400 years because he is such a difficult and complex character. Pitiful, proud, angry, vengeful, weak, arrogant; his behaviour defies simply analysis and continues to be argued over. He is flawed not because he is a Jew, but because he is human. Rarely do modern screenwriters imbue their creations with such richly textured contradictions, and it is to everyone's benefit that we have Shakespeare to draw on for inspiration.
Shakespearean language is wild and rambling, saturated in multiple meanings, word play and metaphor. To be understood it must be wrangled and tamed by an actor with the strength and knowledge to do so. When an actor fails, the words pour forth in a torrent of incomprehensible words, but when he succeeds, the English language springs to life with an immediacy and vibrancy that takes your breath away. Al Pacino is one such actor, and here displays an incredible level of clarity and control that, were there any justice, would sweep every award in the offering. He meets the challenge of presenting Shylock head on, and delivers an extraordinarily subtle and nuanced performance. It would be a crime if we never got the opportunity to see what he does with King Lear.
The supporting cast is noteworthy. Jeremy Irons gives an original take on the familiar Antonio, presenting an older, quieter figure that displays the unsavoury contradictions between medieval chivalry and ugly prejudice of the time. Joseph Fiennes is a revelation as he matures beyond superficial eye-candy to actually inhabit a character for once. Lynn Collins is the only disappointment. Many of Shakespeare's women are underwritten and require an actor to really work hard to bring them to life, and Collins' Gwyneth Paltrow impersonation seems a little flat and unsuited to the darker tone that Radford is aiming for.
The design team must be acknowledged for creating a unique and thoroughly believable vision of Late Renaissance Venice. The city has not looked this ominous since 'Don't Look Now'. Taking full advantage of extant locations and natural light, the film has an appearance of authenticity that is greatly enhanced by the dark and timeworn costume design. All, again, are worthy of award recognition.
The financial backers of films such as this must be commended. With a budget of $30 million, they must go into such a venture in the full and certain knowledge that they will never make a profit, and yet they invest nonetheless. We can all be grateful for it, as the result is a remarkable adaptation that is sure to be a benchmark for many years to come.
- Jan 31, 2005