The Merchant of Venice
Winter 2005 Edge series
Sunday, March 20, 2005 at 4:00pm
Sunday, March 20, 2005 at 7:00pm
Rated NR ·
A Special Presentation at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival, director Michael Radford’s (Il Postino) accomplished adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice mines the humour of its source material with an expert hand. But the play — fuelled by passion, intergenerational misunderstanding, hypocrisy, religious intolerance and entrapment — is also a complex, disturbing work and this fiery retelling blazes with a visceral sense of atmosphere and profoundly evocative characterizations by Al Pacino (The Godfather, The Insider), Jeremy Irons (Dead Ringers, Being Julia) and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, Luther). In the powerful and putatively liberal city state of Venice — which Radford depicts as a rainy, smouldering maze — Shylock (Pacino) has grown wealthy through the “abomination” of moneylending and faces indignity or mortal danger when he ventures beyond the Jewish quarter. In the same city, though in a different world, lives Antonio (Irons), a Christian merchant beset by worry over the fate of his trading vessels and his increasing isolation from his best friend Bassanio (Fiennes). The younger man has fallen in love with the beautiful Portia (emerging star Lynn Collins) and seeks to go abroad to win her hand. When Antonio, cash-strapped but still possessed of good credit, stakes Bassanio for a loan of three thousand ducats from Shylock, a bond is sealed, the risk of which is the now-proverbial pound of Antonio’s flesh.
The performances are exceptional: there is splendid chemistry between Fiennes and Collins, while Kris Marshall (Love Actually) exudes great aplomb as Bassanio’s friend Gratiano. Surrounding his Antonio with an aura of abject exhaustion, Irons portrays a merchant overshadowed by morbidity from the start, while Pacino brings tremendous resonance to the intricate role of Shylock, who suffers loss upon loss before reaching his breaking point. Under Radford’s steady hand, romance, sensuality, comic subterfuge and last-minute reversals blend masterfully with the stark tragic power of The Merchant of Venice, leading inexorably to the last famous moments of Shylock’s final exile from his faith and his community.