Much Ado About Nothing Review

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Experience has taught us that pulling off contemporary Shakespeare adaptations are phenomenally hard to do as evidenced by the device opinions on both Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet and Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus. This week, Joss Whedon of Avengers fame steps up to the metaphorical plate as he tackles Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing.

Several things are remarkable about Much Ado About Nothing purely from a production standpoint. For instance, the film was shot entirely at Whedon’s personal estate in Santa Monica, California. Additionally, and due in part to the very intimate scale of the production, filming was completed in just under two weeks- a remarkable timeframe- during Whedon’s contractually obligatory vacation after post-production of The Avengers. 

The film is beautifully directed, and one can tell that Whedon approaches the story with incredible enthusiasm. As is the case with much of Shakespeare’s work, the tempo of the piece is hugely important. Whedon proves that he has a clear vision of not only what the piece is supposed to look like, but he also gives special attention to the rhythm and the beauty of the spoken word. His actors, for the most part, do a masterful job of giving special emphasis to the language of the piece and the many complex and sometimes subtle exchanges between characters.

Starring an ensemble cast and featuring the talents of Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond and Fran Kranz, the film is a beautiful looking, light-hearted comedy with a fanciful, pseudo-noir feel. The trifecta of Denisof, Gregg and Kranz steal every scene they’re in and bring a fundamentally human element to Shakespeare’s sometimes unintelligibly highbrow dialogue. Performances were generally exceptional all around and were only dimmed by the only slightly stilled portrayals of the antagonists, Don John and Borachio.

I’ve heard it said that the style of the film- black and white with some chic and jazzy aesthetics- did nothing to serve the narrative and ultimately detracted from the experience. My thoughts, however, are the opposite. To me, it seems as though Whedon’s choice of a monochromatic color scheme is intended to allow the audience to focus more on the language and dialogue of the piece, rather be distracted by the set dressing. Speaking from my own personal experience, Shakespearian dialogue is often devilishly hard to understand, especially when we’re being introduced to new characters. Another possible reason for the aesthetic choices are to establish a tone of semi-fantasy- almost to a degree of magical realism. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of Much Ado About Nothing, you’ll find that some pretty incredible things end up happening- things that might make more sense within the context of a sort of fanciful, magical world. Therefore, I believe Whedon’s choice was not only innovative, but practical as well.

I understand that the prospect of sitting through a two hour, black and white production filled with Shakespearian dialogue may be off-putting for some viewers, but I assure you that your fears are unfounded. Whedon’s interpretation of this classic comedy is smart, fun, expertly paced, beautiful looking, brilliantly acted, and genuinely funny. Much Ado About Nothing has made it’s way, quite unexpectedly, to my top films of the year and fully deserves and resounding recommendation.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Netflix Movie of the Week #11: Coriolanus

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The Bard may not have spent much time playing Call of Duty, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the 2011 film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known-but-still-better-than-I-could-do works, Coriolanus. Coriolanus follows the rise and ultimate fall of Roman general Coriolanus (Fiennes) as he is betrayed and banished from his homeland. In anger, he turns to his sworn enemy, the Volscian general Aufidius (Gerard Butler), to help him avenge his punishment. The film, which has been adapted to modern times and is set in modern-day Rome, is director and star Ralph Fiennes’ first time in the director’s chair. Fiennes obviously set out to bring the story’s ever-present violence and betrayal to an audience that perhaps doesn’t connect with the more subtle elements of the Bard’s works.

And this film is certainly anything but subtle. The performances, production, and cinematography all work to heighten the tension, and I can safely say that it’s one of the more intensely-acted films I’ve seen in recent years. Though, from a pair of leading men best known as Lord Voldemort and Leonidas, what else could I expect? It’s been said that no actor could ever play Shakespeare’s words as well as they are written, but Fiennes and Butler certainly come pretty close. The cinematography looks great, and really lends itself to the intensity of the plot.

The film’s being set in the present-day definitely makes the incredibly complex Shakespearian verse clear and relatable. The only real fault I could find with this movie had to do with some plot points that seemed pretty out of place in the modern adaptation. It’s a little far-fetched to see soldiers dressed in full modern military gear running from room to room gunning down tactical targets like something out of a video game while calling each other “knaves.” In one scene, Coriolanus and Aufidius drop their weapons, have their men step back, and have themselves a good-old-fashioned knife fight, mono-a-mono.  Nitpicky hangups aside, Fiennes makes the plot flow smoothly and keeps things easy to follow.

Adapting a Shakespeare play to the modern era may seem, at this point, a tired cliché. Over the years, Hollywood has thrown at us dozens of less than phenomenal adaptations, perhaps most notably director Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo & Juliet, starring a (shockingly) baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. But, although many of the problems that have plagued other modern-day adaptations can be found in Coriolanus, this particular adaptation manages to stand out for its intense cast and generally top-notch direction. It’s certainly worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5