Sunday, February 17, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) - A Film Review

Shakespeare and Hollywood have had a strange career together. Usually when Tinseltown puts a spin on the Bard's works, the results are mixed. You would have shoddy interpretations that are overblown and overdone with historial props, leaving little to the original dialogue and let alone the story.

On the other hand, there have been decent Shakespeare pickings. You would have 1968's Romeo and Juliet (and even 1996's Romeo + Juliet is good in my opinion, though some cry afoul of it) among other films that are faithful and at the same time decent cinema.

Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing fits the bill of the "A+ Shakespeare List" despite its few quibbles.

The movie opens up with the ladies hanging around the Italian countryside. Beatrice catches sight of the seven male characters of the play on horseback. Michael Flachman of Shakespeare: From Page to Stage commented that this scene was too similiar to a cinematic reference of The Magnificent Seven. I would have to agree, but then again, even Shakespeare has to play by some rules in celluoid. This is Branagh's big reminder of that.

Thankfully we have some faithful dialogue coupled with excellent acting to complement the tale of love and romantic tomfoolery. Branagh is charming and hilarious as the overconfident Benedick, with the garden scene of "romantic revelation" being one of his high points. Emma Thompson plays a ferocious Beatrice that would be close to how Shakespeare's Beatrice would be portrayed. Like Branagh, not one moment is dull with her as she has her funny moments with vicious wordplay and cinematic believability.

Robert Sean Leonard and a pre-Underworld Kate Beckinsale do their roles well as the lovers Claudio and Hero. Like the play, they are the "low key" characters who do not have Benedick's or Beatrice's confidence, often letting outside forces (and other characters) run their lives. Leonard and Beckensdale are an attractive pair together, fitting into the story and the cast.
Michael Keaton as Dogberry can either grow on you or just repel. To me, he was hilarious using his Beatlejuice shtick to portray the bumbling watchman, even borrowing from Monty Python for his slick "steed!" Compared to Dogberry in the play, Keaton's interpretation was comically sadistic and over the top. He abuses his fellow watchmen with glee, providing great comic relief for the film.

Denzel Washington as Don Pedro is faithful to the Shakespearian character. Pedro has always been an "observer," and Washington does well in the role to that respect. The delivery of his lines were impressive and we seem to be watching with him on the events happening within the movie.

The only character who might have needed to be torn from the ink parchment would be Keanu Reeves as the villainous Don John. In earlier posts, Linda and I have "dogberried" him for being "platidudinous." He always keeps the same grim, evil face throughout his entire performance. Did Reeves expect to travel through a phone booth? Or ride a high speeding bus? How about investigating bank robbers who are also surfers? Reeves is more suited to these roles than a bitter "bastard" of a character. Even when not speaking, he is unintentionally hilarious of both the preconceptions of his performances and his handling of Don John. Flachman can complain all he wants about Keaton's performance, but Reeves really dropped the Shakespearian ball.

Branagh's direction goes well exploring the characters and being faithful to Shakespeare's original work, so not a dull moment is to be seen in his version. He nailed the effects and visuals that cannot be matched with a stage play. On the other hand, Shakespeare fans will notice a loss of "juice" in certain scenes, for everything could not be translated smoothly. Stage-to-movie issues exist but Branagh has done the job in not trying too hard to make a faithful adaptation.

Overall, Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing earns an eight out of ten for a jolly good effort. If you are one of the purists who hate Leonardo diCaprio and Claire Danes in a "modern" adapation of Romeo + Juliet or simply cannot stand Mel Gibson playing as the skull holding Hamlet, there will be little disappointment provided with this offering from Hollywood.

Extra Note: For the poll, it appears that opinions were mixed on Mr. Reeves' performance in Shakespeare. There was a vote concerning he was better off "following the white rabbit," while the other ponders the question: "Why is he famous overall?" Thanks for participating!

- Kristopher

1 comment:

danyulengelke said...

Great review!

We're linking to your article for Shakespeare Comedies Tuesday at

Keep up the good work!