Merchant of Venice, The (2004)

aka: William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 2 hrs., 18 mins.
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  • Review by Trent Russi
    Rating: 8.0

    William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is, of course, a classic. Set in 16th century Venice, Antonio (Jeremy Irons) borrows money from a Jew named Shylock (Al Pacino) that he wronged. He does so, so that his dear friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) can pursue the woman he loves. However, when Antonio defaults on the debt, Shylock demands a pound of flesh in payment.

    A comedy? Not today.

    I have to admit that I have never read Shakespeare's play, nor did I really know the story. However, I did have the notion in my head that this was one of his comedies. But according to the synopsis I read online, it was an "incendiary drama" about love and justice amidst an anti-Semitic atmosphere. So is it a comedy or a drama? The answer is yes.

    Shakespearean comedies are drama, conflict, and even murder plots. But they are classified mostly by the confusion, misunderstandings, weddings, and lack of a plethora of bodies at the end. In that light, this is one of his comedies. It includes absurd suitors, riddles and puzzles, cross-dressing, and playful deceit.

    However, this production does not play on this much. It appears that this is first and foremost a drama to the filmmakers. Honestly, I'm okay with that. The film was very dramatic, and constantly made me wonder what was going to happen. But I am also happy that I knew it is a comedy (in Shakespeare's eyes) as it helped me keep a lighthearted attitude about the events.

    Al Pacino is angry? Surely not.

    It is hard to make the written word sarcastic, but this section title was meant to be so. Al Pacino's career has included many characters who are angry and vengeful. It is not hard to picture him as Michael Corleone or Tony Montana screaming at some other man. Al Pacino's Shylock is angry, and vengeful. Antonio has wronged Shylock. Shylock believes this is because he is a Jew. I must say that I was terribly impressed with Pacino's performance. Of course there are times when Shylock yells, but in general Pacino's Shylock is calm in his anger. There are times when he is ripped with grief, or bitter beyond words. Yet Pacino keeps much of Shylock's malice toward Antonio locked in his eyes and words.

    Ensemble and Language

    Overall, the entire cast was wonderful. People should she see this film if they are afraid of reading Shakespeare. Many have a hard time (myself including) reading Shakespeare through and understanding every little nuance. However, when you watch Shakespeare (either on stage or screen) it is much easier to follow. Voice inflection and motion go a long way to understanding. This cast does a wonderful job of conveying every bit of the language. After about half an hour, I was so immersed that I didn't have to concentrate on the language at all.

    This film was superb. With Shakespearean drama, twists and turns, and a fantastic cast, The Merchant of Venice is worth the watch.