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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on November 12, 2005
This was a beautiful adaptation of the play the Merchant of Venice. Actually being filmed in Venice and in some of the surrounding lush and marvelous historic buildings and palaces and having breathtaking, dramatic lighting and costumes gave the film a feeling of a work of art in and of itself.
The superstitious and evil anti-Semitic practices of the place and era are shown as well as Antonio’s part in the conspiracy to whisk away Shylock’s daughter and stolen property. This background information gave a realistic build up to Shylock’s agitated mental state and makes the audience understand when he later goes after his just and rightful pound of flesh with such vengeance. Al Pacino steals the show with his wonderful performance. When I first read the play in High School I thought the character cared more for his money than his daughter – but this performance by Pacino gives a much more believable view of the character’s relationship with his daughter, Jessica.
Shakespeare, is years ahead of his time, his great humanitarianism shines through in this play – women educating themselves and saving the day with their bravery and intellect, a black suitor received with warmth and humor during a time of slavery and racism, and a Jewish man shown as a person with feelings and self worth in a time when Jews were considered sub-human ‘dogs’ by the Christian majority.
Although a negative view of Christianity is depicted in the opening scene where Franciscan monks are shown using the actual words of Paul from the Bible and Martin Luther to bring to trial by drowning (if guilty) a Jewish man being charged with money lending as he is thrown into the Grande Canal. A more positive and inspiring view of Christianity is shown in the court scene where both the Duke and Antonio act mercifully to the unmerciful Shylock. The most famous part of the play, Portia’s ‘Quality of Mercy’ speech tells of mercy being an attribute of God. Shylock’s fellow red-hatted Jews in the court scene were depicted as being against the horrendous terms of the bond, hoping that Shylock would relent of his vengeance and chose mercy when he had the opportunity.
I think this film adaptation has done a wonderful job of promoting religious tolerance. There was fault on both sides and grace given by both sides – in the wrong hands this play could easily become a work of anti-Semitism, the only sour note was the forcing of Shylock to become Christian or forfeit his life. I imagine that Shakespeare himself had to walk a narrow line regarding religion or risk the consequences in his day.
Unfortunately the video has a lot of bare breasts and is therefore rated at “R” In Venice at that time it was decreed by law that all prostitutes were required to display their breasts in order to prevent young boys posing as women and participating in the business, so this was a historically accurate portrayal. This however may prevent high school students from seeing the movie, which is a shame as it would make an excellent background for the reading of the play as part of a language arts program.
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on March 15, 2015
This movie rendition of Shakespeare’s play was largely filmed on location in Venice and the Veneto. This provides fascinating depth and beauty.

However, the misconstrued screenplay greatly reduces the movie’s appeal. Strangely, Shylock is « humanized » and depicted in a ridiculously positive fashion, for instance attending the synagogue. There had been no Jews in England for centuries when the play was written and Shylock was obviously conceived as a stereotypical villain. The notion of political correctness simply did not exist in 16th century England!

This bias in the screenplay makes it incoherent. The text at the beginning of the movie describes the plight of Venetian Jews who are locked in the walled Ghetto after sunset. Yet, minutes later, an evening scene is presented with Shylock visiting Antonio … certainly outside the Ghetto. Also, the notion of cultural sensitivity does not extend to the African, French, German and Spanish suitors to Portia who are mercilessly portrayed as foolish buffoons.

The acting is marred first by the presence of both American and British accents. Worse, acting direction is poor with Lynn Collins (Portia) in a light farcical mode, Jeremy Irons (Antonio) in a dark and tragic mode and poorly coiffed and shaved Joseph Fiennes (Bassanio) in an absentee mode.

Overall, the movie may be recommended essentially for its illustration of northern Italy.
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Having watched this film, methinks one is best served by reading Shakespeare's play before watching this adaptation of it. I've always liked and truly appreciated Shakespeare, and never before have I found myself saying "huh" after certain lines of dialogue, but certain parts of this film quite lost me - to a large extent, I think, this is due to the fact that an infernal number of lines are whispered and hard to pick up, let alone translate from Shakespearean English to modern English. I also had trouble early on distinguishing between two of the male characters (they both had the same grubby, long hairstyle). And then you've got characters donning and doffing hideous masks left and right, which doesn't help either. I had no trouble following the principal storyline, but this film left me with questions concerning some of the minor subplots - had I read the play beforehand, I'm sure these questions would not nag me. The film does feature wonderful cinematography and some really strong actors and actresses in the main roles, and the most crucial scene vibrates with suspense and nervous energy, but I think it plays much, much better to those already familiar with the play.

This is an immensely complicated story that leaves you with much food for thought. Al Pacino is incredible as Shylock, imbuing his character with power and vehemence that comes off the screen in waves. I find myself quite torn in my appraisal of Shylock; he is both victim and devil, and Pacino captures his dual nature to outstanding effect. As a Jew living in 16th century Venice, Shylock (like all of his people) was cruelly treated and persecuted for his race and faith. One can certainly understand why he tried to exact revenge on one of the wealthy Christians who treated him worse than a dog and personally spat upon him a mere week before coming ask him for a loan. The situation with his daughter then threw oil on an already burning fire. Shylock wants revenge, and he has the merchant Antonio (Jeremy Irons) at his mercy, for some ill-timed shipwrecks prevent the far from noble Christian from repaying his debt. The bond, of course, states that Shylock can extract a pound of his flesh in payment, and Shylock zealously sets out to take Antonio's heart and will be dissuaded by no one. His race and religion render him all but powerless, so he lusts for the opportunity to legally extract a most bitter revenge. Shylock is best summed up in his famous "do we not bleed?" speech - even the court scenes toward the end cannot match the power of that incredible speech.

The reason Antonio secured the loan in the first place was to enable his young friend to sail to the manor of a fair, rich young lady whose betrothal is basically up for sale - to whomever solves what is basically a puzzle. There are three small caskets with different clues, and whoever makes the right choice wins the hand of Portia (a perfectly enchanting Lynn Collins). Several ill-matched suitors fail (much to Portia's relief) before Antonio arrives to take his chance. The problem with this is the fact that any idiot would know which casket to choose, as it is blatantly obvious. Portia goes on to play an integral role in Antonio's final appeal, introducing yet another somewhat ridiculous aspect to the story. The movie doesn't end there, however, as it carries through another new subplot that, in my mind, renders the most dramatic moments of the film anticlimactic - and that's why the movie is well over two hours long.

I really must read Shakespeare's play now because I do want to clear up, if I can, some of the ambiguities I am left with after watching the film. The central story surrounding Shylock, Antonio, and the bond is very powerful, but those subplots and my difficulty understanding some of the often-whispered dialogue did impede my enjoyment of this particular film as a whole.
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on August 12, 2011
This is probably Shakespeare's most controversial play. The issues of the relationship between the Jewish & Christian Peoples In Renaissance Italy, and basically through the last 2000 years of western history.
This is a great CD with Al Pacino & Jeremy Irons, and a great performance - it gives one much food for thought. It is a very thought provoking movie, & gets you thinking about intolerance & racism. . I recommend it highly.
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on August 5, 2013
This is one of the great works of a great writer. There is so much to learn from this story it inspired me to write a blog ([...] about it and courtroom dramas. I just saw a very good live performance at the Stratford Festival mainly because I liked this movie version so much. An excellent cast, shot in Venice in the Elizabethan period. Subtitles would have made this even better.
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on December 7, 2013
This movie gives the background to "The Merchant of Venice". One has to understand the Background for the play, otherwise some of the Dialogue seems confusing. The Play is very well acted, it must be said that this is not a "Light Comedy" ; rather it is a Drama. If someone is looking for a "Character Study" with a lot of depth, I recommend this DVD.
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on March 22, 2013
Before viewing this movie, I never thought that Pacino would be able to do justice to the character of Shylock; however though I've seen many Shylocks, both in film and on stage, Pacino's performance is the standout.
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on December 26, 2012
I teach Shakespeare in my class and plan to use this movie, as it will be an excellent addition to my Shakespeare units.
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on November 25, 2015
I cannot listen to the 92q0534986 darn thing on my tv and DVD player here in Québec Canada: a total loss ML
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on April 1, 2016
Does not play on North American DVD players.
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