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The Merchant of Venice (PG)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two for Pacino) l One (for film)


AL PACINO delivers another masterly performance as Shylock in Michael Radford's lavish, but ultimately dull interpretation of William Shakespeare's classic, The Merchant of Venice.

The movie veteran strides through the movie with an authority sadly lacking from most of the rest of the cast, enlivening proceedings whenever he is around, but exposing the movie's all too many weaknesses whenever he is not.

The plot will be familiar to many. Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) persuades his trusted friend, Antonio (Jeremy Irons), to lend him the money needed for him to impress the beautiful heiress, Portia (Lynn Collins), so that he can marry her.

Blinded by his own love for Bassanio, Antonio agrees but has to borrow the money himself from a despised Jew, Shylock (Pacino), whose bitterness at the contempt openly displayed towards him, persuades him to put a clause in their contract - that if Antonio cannot fulfil the debt in money terms, he must pay it with a pound of his flesh.

The debt, at first, seems easy to pay, but events conspire against Antonio, while also serving to fuel Shylock's hatred for those he has dealt with, especially when one of Bassanio's companions, Lorenzo (Charlie Cox), falls for Shylock's daughter (Zuleikha Robinson) and promptly runs off with her.

To add to all the love-making, another of Bassanio's lusty side-kicks, Gratiano (Kris Marshall), falls for Portia's handmaid (Heather Goldenhersh), prompting much flirting between the youthful couples.

Yet it is in the courtship sequences that Radford's film flounders, somewhat, appearing neither as fun nor as sexy as proceedings should be.

Fiennes, especially, plays things a little too earnest, while both of his sidekicks lack the gravitas to ease viewers through the lengthy two-hour plus running time, forcing them to pine for the return of Pacino. Only really Collins seems to inject the fun needed to bring about some light relief from the more serious stuff between Shylock and Antonio.

That said, Shakespeare purists will probably relish the opportunity of seeing The Bard's timeless tale given such a glossy makeover (the Venice locations are sumptuously shot), while Pacino fans will revel in the integrity be brings to the role of Shylock.

His scenes with Antonio, in particular, positively crackle with energy, while several of his monologues (delivered as per the Shakespearean text) are mesmerising to behold. The film provides an interesting companion piece to his previous Shakespeare film, Looking For Richard.

Irons, too, delivers the goods with a genuinely heartfelt turn as Antonio, whose love for Bassanio places him at odds with Shylock, thereby making the pivotal moment, involving the pound of flesh, an undisputed highlight of the movie.

But by failing to inject the same sort of verve and energy into the rest of proceedings (which include all manner of double-crosses to keep it interesting), Radford (who previously directed Il Postino) allows his film to fester too long in tedious sub-plots and routine performances, making The Merchant of Venice a worthy but curiously unsatisfying experience.

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