The Merchant of Venice

Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, Zuleikha Robinson

Directed by Michael Radford
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 3
Community: star rating
5 3 0
January 6, 2005

Anti-Jewish sentiments are built into Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as they are in the New Testament, which Mel Gibson learned when his Passion of the Christ renewed an age-old controversy. Al Pacino, taking on the role of Shylock — the Jewish money lender who demands a pound of flesh from Antonio (Jeremy Irons) if he fails to repay his debt — will have to duck similar flak. Director Michael Radford, who adapted the play for the screen, helps by putting the work in context. It's Venice, 1594, when Christian enmity toward Jews was a fact of life. Take the famous trial scene in which Portia (striking newcomer Lynn Collins), disguised as a male lawyer, strains the quality of mercy. It can't help but fuel the fans when Shylock is brought to financial ruin and forced to convert to Christianity.

Pacino, in a performance of fine-honed rage and resignation (no hoo-ha grandstanding here), tempers the role with compassion. The actor speaks the Bard's verse with quiet command. The dark pools of his eyes show a path to a history of persecution that find a telling framework for Shylock's actions. The film itself occasionally plods, but Pacino, tackling a tough trap of a role, raises the bar in a mesmerizing acting triumph.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “American Girl”

    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

    It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

    More Song Stories entries »