The Merchant of Venice
This is the first theatrical movie of this play since the silent era. Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles have done it for television, but lately people shy away from it because of the anti-Semitism. I think this is a mistake. You can’t deny it’s there, it was an anti-Semitic age Shakespeare was writing in … but you know what? I’m on Shylock’s side. I think he’s a genuine hero, and I am sad at his final defeat. Spat upon, insulted for doing the only thing allowed to Jews by hypocritical Christians who could then eschew “usury” (I’ll bet he gave better interest than MasterCard), in constant danger of his life, deserted and robbed by his daughter with the connivance of those same Christians … wouldn’t you want your pound of flesh? I would. The only thing good you can say about Antonio is that he was willing to honor his contract; he entered it eagerly enough, to screw the Jew out of his interest, and to provide the love of his life with the means to put on the dog in a big way for the object of his lust. Bassanio is an asshole who got himself into debt and had the balls to ask Antonio for cash he didn’t have, and he had to know Antonio was hot for him. Mr. Sensitivity! The only admirable person in sight is Portia, stuck in one of those medieval quandaries, made the prize in a game devised by her goofy dead father, and of course she’s the one smart enough to bring Shylock down. Her arguments are brilliant, and you only wish she could continue her life in court. Married to Bassanio, the only challenge to her will be ordering his dimwitted life, and it’s way too small a project for such a mind.
As for this movie, it is beautiful, much shortened of necessity for the traditional 2-hour time slot, and well acted by all in sight. Pacino is brilliant in his famous speech and in court. He never goes over the top. Jeremy Irons is always good. But I only had eyes for Lynn Collins, who before this has been seen in strictly minor parts in movies like 50 First Dates, 13 Going on 30, and Down With Love. I want to see a lot more of her.