The Merchant of Venice (PG)
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Time Out saysRadford’s Shakespeare adaptation is his best film since ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ but doesn’t overcome the play’s inherent difficulties. The director prefaces the action with titles that explain the resentful tolerance that the Venice of 1596 showed to the usury practised by the city’s Jews. Radford then emphasises the virulent anti-Semitism of the time by showing Jeremy Irons’ merchant Antonio publically spitting on Shylock, proffering a crucial psychological explanation for the Jew’s tragic intransigence over his contracted pound of flesh.
This is Al Pacino’s show and thankfully his Shylock is absorbing enough to carry the day. Adopting a guttural staccato, he assumes an intriguing figure driven as much by contempt and pride as he is by revenge; an orthodox authoritarian drawing on wells of controlled rage, he’s also vulnerable enough to be deeply slighted (and isolated) by the desertion of his beloved daughter (a poor Zuleikha Robinson). The rest of the transatlantic cast work surprisingly well as an ensemble, despite individual weaknesses: Joseph Fiennes’ shallow opportunist Bassanio (beloved by Irons’ tortured gay) is slightly underwhelming; Lynn Collins’ bubbly Portia is over-confident to the point of obtuseness; and Kris Marshall’s Gratiano, well, too ingratiating. That said, Radford keeps the drama streamlined and well-paced and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme lights the canals, piazzas and palazzos without resort to pictorialism or cliché, minimising the impact of some embarrassing visual effects (notably those generating Portia’s island castle). The conventional feelgood ending, however, played straight as here, is callous and triumphalist, condemning the play and leaving a very bad taste in the mouth.
Fri Dec 3, 2004