The Merchant of Venice is a 2004 movie based on Shakespeare's play with the same name.
It follows the text very closely, only missing lines here and there. The director, Michael Radford, believed that Shylock was Shakespeare's first tragic hero, who reaches a catastrophe due to his own flaws: thus the film does not show Shylock purely as a villain, but partly also as a victim. It begins with text and a montage of how the Jewish community is cruelly abused by the bigoted Christian population of Venice. One of the last shots of the film also brings attention to the fact that, as a convert, Shylock would have been cast out of the Jewish community in Venice, no longer allowed to live in the ghetto.
Other cast members include:
- Zuleikha Robinson (Jessica)
- Kris Marshall (Gratiano)
- Charlie Cox (Lorenzo)
- Heather Goldenhersh (Nerissa)
- Mackenzie Crook (Lancelot Gobbo)
- John Sessions (Salerio)
- Gregor Fisher (Solanio)
- Ron Cook (Old Gobbo)
- Allan Corduner (Tubal)
- Anton Rodgers (The Duke)
- David Harewood (Prince of Morocco)
Bassanio, a young Venetian, wants to travel to Belmont to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia. He approaches his friend Antonio, a merchant, for 3000 ducats needed to subsidize his travelling expenditures for three months. As all of Antonio's ships and merchandise are tied at sea, Antonio approaches the Jewish moneylender Shylock for a loan. Shylock, spiteful of Antonio because he had insulted and spat on him (for being a Jew) the previous Wednesday, proposes a condition. If Antonio is unable to repay the loan at the specified date, Shylock will be free to take a pound of Antonio's flesh from wherever he pleases. Although Bassanio does not want Antonio to accept such a condition for his sake, Antonio, surprised by what he sees as the moneylender's generosity, signs the agreement. With money at hand, Bassanio leaves for Belmont with another friend Gratiano.
At Belmont, Portia has no lack of suitors. Portia's father, however, has left a will stipulating each of her suitors to choose one of three caskets: one each of gold, silver, and lead. In order to be granted an opportunity to marry Portia, each suitor must agree in advance to live out his life as a bachelor were he to select wrongly. The suitor who correctly looks past the outward appearance of the caskets will find Portia's portrait inside and win her hand. After two suitors, the Princes of Morocco and Aragon choose incorrectly, Bassanio makes the correct choice, that of the leaden casket.
At Venice, all ships bearing Antonio's goods are reported lost at sea, leaving him unable to satisfy the bond. Shylock is determined to exact revenge from Christians after his daughter Jessica flees his home to convert to Christianity and elope with the Christian Lorenzo, taking a substantial amount of Shylock's wealth with her. With the bond at hand, Shylock has Antonio arrested and brought before court.
At Belmont, Portia and Bassanio have just been married, along with his friend Gratiano and Portia's handmaid Nerissa. He receives a letter telling him that Antonio has defaulted on his loan from Shylock. Shocked, Bassanio and Gratiano leave for Venice immediately, with money from Portia, to save Antonio's life. Unbeknown to Bassanio and Gratiano, Portia and Nerissa leave Belmont to seek the counsel of Portia's cousin, Bellario, a lawyer, at Padova.
The dramatic center of the play comes in the court of the Duke of Venice. Shylock refuses Bassanio's offer, despite Bassanio increasing the repayment to 6000 ducats (twice the specified loan). He demands the pound of flesh from Antonio. The Duke, wishing to save Antonio but unwilling to set a dangerous legal precedent of nullifying a contract, refers the case to Balthasar, a young male "doctor of the law" who is actually Portia in disguise, with his/her lawyer's clerk, who is Nerissa in disguise. Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, but Shylock refuses. Thus the court allows Shylock to extract the pound of flesh.
At the very moment Shylock is about to cut Antonio with his knife, Portia points out a flaw in the contract. The bond only allows Shylock to remove the flesh, not blood, of Antonio. If Shylock were to shed any drop of Antonio's blood in doing so, his "lands and goods" will be forfeited under Venetian laws.
Defeated, Shylock accedes to accept monetary payment for the defaulted bond, but is denied. Portia pronounces none should be given, and for his attempt to take the life of a citizen, Shylock's property will be forfeit, half to the government and half to Antonio, and his life will be at the mercy of the Duke. The Duke pardons his life before Shylock can beg for it, and Antonio holds his share "in use" (that is, reserving the principal amount while taking only the income) until Shylock's death, when the principal will be given to Lorenzo and Jessica. At Antonio's request, the Duke grants remission of the state's half of forfeiture, but in return, Shylock is forced to convert to Christianity and to bequeath the rest of his property to Lorenzo and Jessica.
Bassanio does not recognize his disguised wife. He offers to give him/her a present. First she declines, but after he insists, Portia requests his ring and his gloves. He gives the gloves away without a second thought, but gives the ring only after much persuasion from Antonio, as earlier in the play he promised his wife never to lose it, sell it or give it away.
At Belmont, Portia and Nerissa taunt their husbands before revealing they were really the lawyer and his clerk in disguise.
After all the other characters make amends, all ends happily (except for Shylock) as Antonio learns that three of his ships have returned safely after all.
Most film critics praised The Merchant of Venice, especially for Michael Radford's and Al Pacino's sympathetic, yet powerful interpretation of the Shylock character. Critics also praised the dark, realistic look of the streets of Venice for which production designer Bruno Rubeo was honoured by the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. Despite the praise it received, its performance at the box office left much to be desired. Its worldwide theatrical gross was about $20.2 million (its production budget was $30 million).