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When Antonio (Jeremy Irons) is approached by cash-strapped friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes), for a loan in order to compete with the wealthy suitors vying for the hand of beautiful heiress Portia (Lynn Collins) wants to help. But with his fortune tied up in foreign ventures until his ships return, Antonio goes to moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino) to borrow 3,000 ducats. Seizing an opportunity to humiliate the man who had recently and publicly reviled him, Shylock insists on a harsh bond: If the money is not repaid within three months, he will cut off a pound of Antonio's flesh. Bassanio's bid to woo Portia proves successful. Meanwhile, Shylock's daughter, Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson), has run off to marry Christian nobleman Lorenzo (Charlie Cox), taking her father's cash. The widowed Shylock's loss of family and fortune enrages and unhinges him. When Antonio's ships are wrecked and he is unable to honor his debt, Shylock becomes driven in his thirst for revenge.

Review by Louise Keller:
It has taken 5 years for Michael Radford's splendid interpretation of Shakespeare's play to come to Australia and it is worth the wait. Although long at 130 minutes, the source material still holds, while the casting and locations speak for themselves. It's a story about discrimination, revenge and honour with Al Pacino riveting as Shylock, the grudge-bearing usurer who demands his pound of flesh from Jeremy Irons Merchant Antonio - at any cost. Irons is impressive too, but it is Pacino's gritty performance that twists a knife in our chest and steals the film. His speech about Jews ('If we prick, do we not bleed?'), delivered in misty Venice by the Grand Canal is haunting in both passion and sentiment.

The commonly accepted discrimination of Jews in the 16th Century is reinforced in an early scene, when Irons' Antonio spits on Shylock, having called him a misbeliever and cut-throat dog. There is no love lost between the men and when the opportunity presents itself, Shylock does not hesitate to claim his revenge. Radford handles both the central and supplementary plots with agility and much is made of all the relationships. Beyond the hatred between Antonio and Shylock, we are shown the strong bond between Antonio and Joseph Fiennes' Bassanio. The scene in which Irons and Fiennes kiss each other on the lips could easily misfire under different direction and with lesser actors. The love story between Bassanio and Lynn Collins' fair maiden Portia (Collins is superb) is a welcome lyrical interlude and the scenes in which two unsuitable suitors try their luck at solving the riddle of the three chests for Portia's hand, amusing. There are other romantic couplings too, and women disguising themselves as men, as was common in Shakespeare's works.

Venice has great allure, while Luxembourg (doubling for Portia's island home) is breathtakingly beautiful. The detail of how the plot plays out is nicely manoeuvred with the extended court scene one to cherish. Needless to say, this is not a film for the multiplexes, but for lovers of cinema, fine acting and good stories, this is great temptation.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A richly cinematic and robust rendition of Shakespeare's pre-political correctness play about the place of Jews in anti-Semitic 16th century Venice, Michael Radford's film takes delight in dramatics thus pulling us into the story. Al Pacino is striking as the bearded, scruffy-haired Shylock and Jeremy Irons is tragic as Antonio, the man made to grovel. The result of the two modern characterisations is to underline how the play makes both victims and demons of the Jews.

Pacino is probably at his best when delivering the key 'hath not a Jew eyes?' speech on the side of the Grand Canal, when the chance of humanising him are greatest; but he lets Shylock slink into a cruel and vicious caricature. Not all his fault, I agree, since Shakespeare wrote him that way ... and therein lies the reason for the play having been shunned by generations of filmmakers.

Unlike the play of course, the film elevates the setting; there's a gritty texture to the Venice scenes, not unlike rich oil paintings that move ... The extravagant costumes and detailed production design also play a crucial role, while Jocelyn Pook's score adds to the film's tone.

Michael Radford revels in the possibilities the work gives the filmmaker, which is probably why he took it on in the first place, where others have shunned it. He finds the key moments and the lesser moments equally valuable from a cinematic perspective and plays them all to the hilt. Close ups and deep focus shots abound, as he conjures up the texture of the times in all their passionate opportunities - while retaining the balance with the romantic comedy that forms half the play's package.

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(US/UK/Italy, 2004)

CAST: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson, Kris Marshall, Charlie Cox

PRODUCER: Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette

DIRECTOR: Michael Radford

SCRIPT: Michael Radford (play by William Shakespeare)


EDITOR: Lucia Zucchetti

MUSIC: Jocelyn Pook


RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes



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