Saturday, August 06, 2005

Shakespeare on the Big Screen

Okay, maybe not so big unless you consider a 25 inch television a big screen. If you haven't seen The Merchant of Venice starring Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Al Pacino as Shylock, the hunky Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynn Collins as Portia, then you might want to consider adding it to your DVD rental list. While Jeremy Irons wasn't fantastic, he did a solid job. Fiennes was a bit weak at times but he is very easy on the eyes as was Collins. The real power of the movie came from Al Pacino. He played Shylock so well I couldn't make up my mind whether or not I should cheer for him, hate him or pity him. The way the Jews were treated, the loss of his duaghter and Antonio's default on his loan culminate in a court scene in which Shylock is bent on revenge. He will have his pound of flesh. He thinks this will make up for all the times Antonio spit on him, for his daughter running away with a Christian and for the 3,000 ducats that he will not get back. Pacino plays Shylock as a man sure of himself and sure that the law is on his side. He plays it so well that when he is offered 6,000 ducats for the note we are not surprised when he says no. And by the time Portia, disguised as a lawyer, asks him to show mercy, Pacino gives us a Shylock who is so far gone that he can't even understand what mercy is because he is too busy sharpening his knife. But when Shylocks' knife is stopped because he cannot take his flesh without spilling blood, he transforms into a sad, beaten man who has lost everything. Pacino pulls it off quite convincingly. Sometimes in Shakespeare movies when the actors are not stage actors the Elizabethan English does not roll trippingly across the tongue but often seems awkward and stiff. Aside from the occasional mumbled line from Fiennes and Irons, the speech seemed natural and smooth. The costuming was appropriate. And the city of Venice made for a beautiful set. A good evening's entertainment and a good reminder why Shakespeare's work is still with us.