One of Shakespeare's most powerful and controversial plays finally comes to the screen in Michael Radford's splendid adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Briskly paced and passionately alive, Radford's compelling and handsomely filmed version of the Bard's tragicomic play features a superlative cast headed by Oscar winners Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons. They, along with Joseph Fiennes and luminously gifted newcomer Lynn Collins, command the screen in The Merchant of Venice, which marks the first time the director of Il Postino has ever tackled Shakespeare. And while his traditional approach to the play may lack the cinematic dazzle of Baz Luhrmann's contemporary spin on Romeo + Juliet, there's nothing static or overly stagy about Radford's The Merchant of Venice.
Filmed on location, The Merchant of Venice transports you back to the 16th century, when the city's vilified Jewish community was ghettoized. Shunned, even spat upon by the Venetian nobles and merchants, the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Pacino) has built a sizable fortune through usury. Although the merchant Antonio (Irons) despises Shylock, he nonetheless goes to him on behalf of his debt-ridden friend Bassanio (Fiennes)。 To woo the beautiful and fabulously rich Portia (Collins)， Bassanio needs money. Since Antonio is momentarily low on funds, he borrows it from Shylock. But if Antonio fails to repay the loan by a set date, Shylock will take payment in the form of a pound of flesh from Antonio's chest.
Over Bassanio's objections, Antonio accepts Shylock's offer. Meanwhile, as Bassanio sets sail for Portia's island home, Shylock's world begins to crumble. His beloved daughter Jessica (Zuleika Robinson) renounces her faith to run away with Bassanio's friend Lorenzo (Charlie Cox)。 And she takes a large chunk of Shylock's money with her. Feeling betrayed and abandoned, Shylock focuses all his hurt and anger on Antonio, his longtime foe. When Antonio cannot pay the loan on time, Shylock therefore ignores entreaties to be merciful. It appears only a miracle can save the merchant, who is bound by law to honor the grisly terms of Shylock's loan.
Aside from a 1973 film starring Laurence Olivier, filmmakers have shied away from this daunting mix of pathos and comedy, which has also been criticized as anti-Semitic. And on a cursory level, the character of Shylock does indeed conform to a Jewish stereotype. Yet he is ultimately a far more sympathetic and complex figure, whose actions are understandable, given the persecution he endures. Shylock may seem ruthless, greedy and vengeful, but he's also tragic—a proud man trying to assert himself in the face of blatant prejudice. In one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, Shylock turns on his oppressors and asks at one point, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” It's a mesmerizing, intensely felt plea for respect that Pacino performs brilliantly, his voice a mixture of hurt and pent-up rage.
Speaking of Pacino, he admirably resists the urge to go his usual histrionic route in The Merchant of Venice. In recent years, he's degenerated into something of a self-parody—a loud ham who seemed intent on screaming his way through a movie. Thankfully, the Shakespeare devotee (Looking for Richard) appears to have rediscovered subtlety and nuance in acting. He's forceful and magnetic without being showy. www.xzhufu.com Like Roy Cohn, whom Pacino plays superbly in Angels in America, Shylock is a bravura role that could easily be played as a villain, but as he did with Cohn, Pacino manages to find traces of vulnerability in this angry, deeply wounded man.
Although Irons and Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) are both excellent, it's Collins who makes the biggest splash opposite Pacino. Looking like she stepped out of a Renaissance painting, this prodigiously talented American actress has a musical voice and intelligence similar to Cate Blanchett. She's immensely charming and spirited in the comic scenes at her island home, where a parade of would-be suitors tries to win her hand (and fortune)。 She also doesn't shrink from going head-to-head with Pacino in the courtroom scene that brings The Merchant of Venice to its gripping climax.
Beautifully shot by Benoit Delhomme, The Merchant of Venice is the best film version of a Shakespearean play since Julie Taymor's Titus.