Generally favorable reviews - based on 35 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 22 out of 35
  2. Negative: 2 out of 35
  1. An exceptional example of Shakespeare on film.
  2. A lean, stripped-down and unapologetically cinematic take on Shakespeare's work, an adaptation designed at each turn to diminish the mechanics of the comedy and to explore the depths of the pathos.
  3. Reviewed by: Melissa Levine
    Radford has made a gripping, highly cinematic adaptation of a gorgeous work of theater.
  4. Collins and Pacino plumb the depths of acting, of Shakespeare, of the difference between law and justice.
  5. Pacino shows you what is only subliminally in the text: that Shylock's heart of stone is really a wall of wounded pride.
  6. Reviewed by: Ray Bennett
    Pacino gives a keenly measured performance, leading an excellent British cast through their paces in a richly colorful production that should please selective audiences and adds to the list of major film adaptations of Shakespeare's work.
  7. What Radford above all accomplishes in his filming of The Merchant of Venice is to suggest that, in essence, it is that most modern of entertainments: a dark - indeed, very dark - comedy.
  8. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Pacino seems to recall, from his early Michael Corleone days, the power of whispered menace.
  9. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    This Merchant of Venice comes roaring to life--when it stops, in effect, apologizing for its terrible anti-Semitic worldview and just gives itself over to some of the most furious courtroom drama ever written.
  10. To watch this movie is to not only appreciate the majesty of Shakespeare's poetics but to engage in a profound, subtextual dialogue with bigotry.
  11. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Given the story's focus on religion and the intolerance that still rages in today's world, The Merchant of Venice remains deeply meaningful.
  12. 75
    The film itself occasionally plods, but Pacino, tackling a tough trap of a role, raises the bar in a mesmerizing acting triumph.
  13. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    The reason to see The Merchant of Venice is Al Pacino.
  14. Reviewed by: Sid Smith
    An important, timeless and sometimes troublesome classic has been filmed successfully and at long last.
  15. Pacino has done more Shakespeare than any other currently bankable movie star, he has a feel for the language and he lends a genuine grandeur to Shylock's big speech of self-defense.
  16. 75
    It has greatness in moments, and is denied greatness overall only because it is such a peculiar construction; watching it is like channel-surfing between a teen romance and a dark abysm of loss and grief.
  17. Reviewed by: David Rooney
    Despite a series of disclaimers about the treatment of Jews in the 16th century, there's even less disguising onscreen than onstage that this is an uncomfortably anti-Semitic play and somewhat problematic for contempo audiences.
  18. Btter-than-average screen Shakespeare: intelligent without being showily clever, and motivated more by genuine fascination with the play's language and ideas than by a desire to cannibalize its author's cultural prestige.
  19. What Radford has retained of the original, he treats warmly and intelligently, and with a few welcome surprises in the acting. But he has produced a different work, moderately successful in itself, out of materials provided by Shakespeare.
  20. Overall this is an intelligent and thoughtful reading of the play, marred only by the implausibility of Portia.
  21. Reviewed by: Philip Kennicott
    As cinematic storytelling, it works.
  22. 63
    Intriguing but ultimately unfulfilling.
  23. 58
    Even though it largely succeeds in putting a civil face on some unpalatable material, it lacks the heat and suppleness of the best Shakespeare on film.
  24. 50
    When the halves of the film collide in the courtroom climax, it looks like a misbegotten pilot for Law & Order: Usury Victims Unit.
  25. 50
    Pacino simply wipes the cobblestones with the rest of the cast: His beautifully calibrated performance is lucid, commanding, and genuinely tragic.
  26. 50
    There are too many rancors--hatred of life, hatred of others, hatred of their means to happiness--to contend with here, and the loveliness of the verse beats fruitlessly against them, as if against a wharf.
  27. Taking one's pound of flesh and having it, too, leads to a queasy comedy in which Pacino burns a hole in the screen while the frivolity around him sputters.
  28. 50
    Not even a compelling performance by Al Pacino as Shylock can make The Merchant of Venice work in its first major big-screen adaptation.
  29. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    Uncomfortable as the film is, it's a beautiful, sensuous experience.
  30. In this exquisitely filmed adaptation Pacino is as vivid a Shylock as we're likely to see. Despite all the scholarly excuses for this drama, though, it's shot through with outrageously anti-Semitic attitudes.
  31. 50
    Shakespeare's rich language does not fit soundly inside every mouth.
  32. William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice may help in bringing some of the Bard's language to life, but this rendition is hardly a freshman course.
  33. 50
    It makes for quite a rumpus, but the material never catches fire.
  34. 30
    It all collapses under an atrocious performance by Pacino, whose laughably bad accent and scene-chewing delivery serve up thick slabs of that rarest of delicacies: Jewish ham. There may be grounds here for a class-action lawsuit.
  35. Reviewed by: Phil Hall
    The single worst Shakespeare film ever made.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 34 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 13 out of 19
  2. Negative: 3 out of 19
  1. Mar 8, 2014
    Not a big fan of Shakespeare stories or movies. I haven't read the book / script, so I wasn't aware of the story. The film manages to build upNot a big fan of Shakespeare stories or movies. I haven't read the book / script, so I wasn't aware of the story. The film manages to build up some tension, but it was overlong. Full Review »
  2. Jwv
    Jan 17, 2014
    This is a great popularized and verbally simplified version of Shakespeare for a wide audience with a top-notch cast. Especially Al Pacino'sThis is a great popularized and verbally simplified version of Shakespeare for a wide audience with a top-notch cast. Especially Al Pacino's performance is genuinely moving, in his assuming the role of an embittered and torn old man, with superior feel for emotional shift and outstanding voice-acting. Lynn Collins also convinces with a good performance. The soundtrack is likable, light and strangely enchanting, and the scenery is beautiful.

    The movie does a great job of complicating the character of Shylock, and makes the viewer question his role as a victim or a villain. In the end, nobody will feel unmoved by the truly excellent and genuinely poignant court scene.

    The courting prices are shallow stereotypes and constitute the only kind of (unintentional) humour this otherwise dry movie brings. I do not understand the choice of not giving the play-appropriated importance and weight in consequence to the casket-scenes. This is strange, since the movie is clearly a dramatized version of the play, and else there is not much that distinguishes Portia from a common harlot when every man can come make his suit without consequence. It saddens me to see the superficiality of these scenes, because Shakespeare did provide more complex and sympathetic characters in the original.
    Full Review »
  3. Mar 31, 2013
    If you wanna see films where bad things happen to people, watch a Shakespeare film! His work is so well known it is integrated in dailyIf you wanna see films where bad things happen to people, watch a Shakespeare film! His work is so well known it is integrated in daily Western culture. The expresion 'getting your pound of flesh' will be allot more clear after you've seen this movie. Superb acting all round and allthough Pacino struggles a bit with the old english accent he delivers an exellent Shylock. Lynn Collins (a native Texan) is brilliant as Portia, a young woman wise beyond her years. This 30m$ flick unsurprisingly bombed at the boxoffice, but I'm sure it'll get a deserved 2nd life on DVD and BD. Full Review »