In 1596, Venetian merchant Shylock (Jeremy Irons) takes a loan from a Jewish moneylender (Al Pacino); should the merchant default on the loan, the Jew will demand a pound of his flesh. The first big-screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s play since the silent era is well worth a look. Its perceived anti-Semitism is the reason why this play is rarely filmed, but writer-director Michael Radford has added a prologue giving the story some well-needed context. Pacino also effectively emphasizes Shylock’s tragic and hurting nature. The locations in Venice add flavor and the courtroom sequence is spellbinding, but parts of the film drag.
2004-U.S.-Italy-Britain-Luxembourg. 131 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette. Written and directed by Michael Radford. Play: William Shakespeare. Cinematography: Benoît Delhomme. Cast: Al Pacino (Shylock), Jeremy Irons (Antonio), Joseph Fiennes (Bassanio), Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson, Kris Marshall.
Trivia: Dustin Hoffman, Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen were allegedly considered for parts.
Last word: “First of all, I looked at every other Shakespeare movie and found very few of them actually really engaging. I liked them and could admire them in many ways, but I found very few of them engaging. And my attempt with this was to make a film that was really going to be a movie that audiences who didn’t necessarily know anything about Shakespeare would become involved in. So I looked at them and I discovered that effectively what Shakespeare does is he enters into the middle of the action, and he doesn’t give you much backstory until later. The first thing I did when I was adapting it was create a backstory so that you knew how the characters related to each other, so that eventually when they started to interact you were with them and already involved in the story.” (Radford, About.com)