Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA/Italy/Luxembourg/United Kingdom, 2004. Movision, Avenue Pictures, UK Film Council, Film Fund Luxembourg, Delux Productions, Immagine e Cinema, Dania Film, Istituto Luce, Navidi-Wilde Productions Ltd., 39 McLaren St. Sydney, Rough Diamond Productions, Spice Factory. Screenplay by Michael Radford, based on the play by William Shakespeare. Cinematography by Benoit Delhomme. Produced by Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette. Music by Jocelyn Pook. Production Design by Bruno Rubeo. Costume Design by Sammy Sheldon. Film Editing by Lucia Zucchetti. Toronto International Film Festival 2004.
In sixteenth century Venice, the city’s rampant anti-Semitism has its own racism bite back when a Jewish moneylender (Al Pacino) looks to be repaid for the bond he has signed with a merchant (Jeremy Irons). Joseph Fiennes plays the lovestruck Bassanio, a young man in difficult financial circumstances who longs to woo the beautiful Portia (Lynn Collins) to marriage but can’t do so without a fortune to back him up. He asks his friend Antonio (Irons) for the money, but Antonio is himself mired in business difficulties and can’t lend it to him, but agrees to a bond with Shylock (Pacino) for a penalty of a pound of his own flesh should he forfeit on the loan. Shylock is unlikely to demand the penalty should Irons forfeit, but after his daughter Jessica runs away with a Christian nobleman, Shylock feels the last straw of degradation has been inflicted upon him and so goes after revenge with a passion. Enter crafty Portia, probably the most dominant of all of Shakespeare’s female characters, to settle all affairs and make justice prevail, even though it causes sorrow to those involved. The Bard’s tale of intolerance and hypocrisy is beautifully recreated by director Michael Radford (Il Postino) in this handsomely mounted production that does great justice to the original play. Pacino is wonderful in the lead, articulate and energetic in his struggle to find dignity for himself as a Jew in a hateful world, while Collins steals the show with her magnificent portrayal of the complicated heroine. The play has often been cited as controversial for its blatant portrayal of prejudice and intolerance, but its raising awareness of the issue should make it more celebrated than shunned: Shakespeare portrays Shylock as a man who is motivated by fatherly love and lifelong marginalization, while everyone around him credits his behaviour to his ethnicity and is purposefully blinded to him as an individual human. As always, the great writer’s belief is that all human beings are flawed and worthy creatures, and thanks to this keenly observed adaptation, this above all other things shines through strongest.