The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5

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Transforming one of Shakespeare’s most complex works into a morass of paralyzing drudgery, Michael Radford (Il Postino) drowns The Merchant of Venice in self-importance. Anti-Semitism, closeted homosexuality, sexism, xenophobia, and justice all swirl around, pulverizing the thematic content into stew. Radford’s Venice is ripe in venality, with half-naked prostitutes wandering the ghetto streets and persecuted Jews enduring all manner of hostility by the oppressive Christians. Once he’s established the grit of earthy naturalism, Merchant eases into its narrative: Antonio (Jeremy Irons) borrows money from Jewish loan shark Shylock (Al Pacino) so his beloved young friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) can woo beautiful heiress Portia (Lynn Collins). While smarmy Fiennes and saccharine Collins do their best Shakespeare In Love, Pacino works himself into the method: spittle soaked, toadyish, and fervent in his great monologues—cloaking himself in mumbles the rest of the time. When Pacino starts sniping about the famous pound of flesh that is his bond, it never equals the vivid posturing of Scarface or even Dick Tracy. But it does breathe some life into what’s otherwise a two-hour-plus period film that chokes to death on its own overbearing literalism.

Image/Sound

Simply gorgeous. Even the handful of CGI shots in the film-which I didn't even know where there until Michael Radford pointed them out in his commentary track-look spotless. Skin tones are accurate, colors are warm and inviting, and shadow delineation is top-notch, which is important here considering Merchant of Venice is a very dark movie. Jocelyn Pook's score makes itself known on the atmospheric Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, which preserves every syllable of the film's dialogue with great richness.

Extras

To my great surprise, the commentary track by Michael Radford and Lynn Collins if both informative and fun. In addition to the usual behind-the-scenes anecdotes, the pair talks a bit about the historical context and details of the film (apparently whores needed to show their blood-tainted titties so their johns would know they didn't have willies), but the challenge of bringing the language of Shakespeare's play and its difficult themes to the big screen is more eloquently discussed in the 30-minute featurette "The Merchant of Venice: Through the Lens." Al Pacino's interview is most impressive: Having rejected the role of Shylock many times, he took the part in Radford's film because of certain aesthetic and moral allowances the production made that no theatre piece had been able to promise him. Rounding out the disc is a weblink to a teacher's guide and trailers for other titles coming up from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Overall

Don't miss The Merchant of Venice for Al Pacino's great scenery-chewing performance and bold expression of a great moral conflict.

Image 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Sound 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Extras 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Overall 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5 2.5 out of 5

Specifications
  • DVD-Video
  • Dual-Layer Disc
  • Region 1
  • Aspect Ratio
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Dolby Digital Formats
  • English 5.1 Surround
  • DTS
  • None
  • Subtitles & Captions
  • English Closed Captions
  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • Special Features
  • Audio Commentary with Michael Radford and Lynn Collins
  • Behind-the-Scenes Making-of Featurette
  • Web Link to Teacher’s Guide
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Buy
    DVD | Soundtrack | Book
    Release Date
    May 10, 2005
    Distributor
    Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
    Runtime
    131 min
    Rating
    R
    Year
    2004
    Director
    Michael Radford
    Screenwriter
    Michael Radford
    Cast
    Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson, Kris Marshall, Charlie Cox, Mackenzie Crook, Heather Goldenhersh, John Sessions, Gregor Fisher, Ron Cook, Allan Corduner