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Movie Review: The Merchant of Venice

Alternate Title: Much Ado About a Pound of Flesh

Story: Kudos writer/director Michael Radford (Il Postino) for being brave enough to tackle this most controversial of Shakespeare's plays.

The disparaging anti-Semitic term 'Shylock' has been with us for four hundred years. The whole story is most likely unfamiliar to most unless you have read the play.

Quick historical background: In 1596 Venice (as in most places in Europe, especially Shakespeare's England) Jews were considered Pagans, had to wear red hats in public, were unable to own property, had to retreat to a 'Geto' to live and basically treated as a lesser from of life. The livelihood that was common for Jews at the time was as money lenders because Christians were not allowed to charge interest on loans.

Enter our Shylock as he agrees to loan 3000 ducats to Bassanio in order for him to woo the lovely Portia. An unusual repayment contract was agreed upon by all parties. If he could not repay the loan when due, rather than interest compounded, a pound of flesh would be exacted from Antonio.

The rest of the tale is not a pretty one and as a Jew, this is not an easy picture to watch. It is depressing that we have not come very far in our prejudices over four centuries. Sigh!

But as a film lover, this is a fine film and definitely worth your time and attention.

Acting: Fine acting all around. Al Pacino plays an impassioned, full bodied Shylock, whose character who seems to physically diminish as the world comes crashing around him. Jeremy Irons, as the Merchant Antonio, gives his best performance since playing Klaus Von Bulow. Joseph Fiennes is a splendid Bassanio. The young, radiant Lynn Collins (as Claire Danes look-a-like) was wonderful as the much desired Portia.

Predilection: None.

Food: The typical table of feasting by the rich and powerful.

Visual Art: The attention to detail and the warm Italian light was like taking a trip through the European wing of the Metropolitan Museum. Many of the scenes reminded me of paintings by the European masters of olde.

Opening Titles: A short history lesson about 1596 Venice and the plight of the Jewish citizen as background.

Theater Audience: Very crowded for the first performance on opening day. My movie buddy and I were delighted to see some High School English classes in attendance with their teachers (and this is during winter recess). They were discussing the film in the lobby at the end. It gave us hope for the much maligned education system of NYC.

Sappy Factor: Oh, for a drop of sap.

Drift Range: One cannot drift through Shakespeare.

Squirm Scale: I squirm at anti-Semitism all the time.

Oscar Worthy: I doubt it.

Nit Picking: No nits to pick.

Big Screen or Rental: The big screen for sure. If you want to know about Shakespeare check out these two websites. http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/ or


Length: A bit over two hours.