The Merchant of Venice (2004)

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Director: Michael Radford

Writer: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Radford(screenplay)

Cast: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson

Synopsis: Rarely has The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare's most complex plays, looked as ravishingly sumptuous as in this adaptation, directed by Michael Radford. In a decadent version of renaissance Venice, a young nobleman named Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) seeks to woo the lovely Portia (Lynn Collins), but lacks the money to travel to her estate.

He seeks support from his friend, the merchant Antonio (Jeremy Irons); but Antonio's fortune is tied up in sea ventures, so the merchant offers to borrow money from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock (Al Pacino). However, Shylock holds a grudge against Antonio, who has routinely treated the Jew with contempt, and demands that if the debt is not repaid in three months, the price will be a pound of Antonio's flesh.

The Merchant of Venice is famous as a "problem play"--the gritty matters of moneylending and anti-Semitism sit uncomfortably beside the fairy tale elements of Portia and Bassanio's romance, and some twists of the plot can seem arbitrary or even cruel. The strength of Radford's intelligent and passionate interpretation is that he and the excellent cast invest the play's opposing facets with full emotional weight, thus making every question the play raises acute and inescapable. Irons is particularly compelling; kindness and blind prejudice sit side by side in his breast, rendering the clashes in his character as vivid as those in the play itself.


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