A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 76 – Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Much Ado About Nothing (1993) – May 15th, 2010

We decided to do more Shakespeare tonight, but picked one of our favorites: Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 production of Much Ado. It is, without a doubt, one of my favorite Shakespeare movies ever. And it makes me desperate to visit Italy. The setting is gorgeous, the music is lively and the cast is (like last night’s movie) fantastic. Now, I’ll get to Keanu Reeves, but aside from him, there isn’t anyone out of place. Unfortunately for the vast majority of the cast, they have to contend with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in the lead roles, and they very much steal the show. But that’s okay! They do it so well, after all.

For the main cast, there are several fantastic people. Denzel Washington does an admirable job with Don Pedro, and I’ve got no complaints about Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard as the romantic couple in the plot. They don’t bowl me over, but they play the young lovers well. Coming from a childhood spent watching British television, I’ve loved Richard Briers for years (please, go find the show The Good Life, aka Good Neighbors), and I still love him here. And of course I adore Brian Blessed in everything, even though his role in this is fairly small. Then there’s Michael Keaton as Dogberry. A ridiculous and bizarre role, played ridiculously and bizarrely by Keaton (let it be known, Dogberry is an ass).

And then there’s Keanu Reeves. Sigh. I have nothing personal against Keanu Reeves, but he’s just not got a very expressive face. And maybe it’s just me, but I find the role of Don John a difficult one. I have no qualms about questioning Shakespeare here and I have a hard time with Don John being a bad guy for the sake of being a bad guy. He’s not given a heck of a lot of motivation beyond his status as Don Pedro’s bastard brother (you’d think if being a bastard so obviously made him evil, someone would have been a bit more wary of his later deceit). Maybe he’s supposed to be a Loki type character, constantly being a little jackass but hey, he’s the big guy’s brother, so what can you do, right? I’m sure it could be played well, but it would take someone with a lot more dramatic expression than Reeves. He does smoldering villainy fairly well, but it feels like that’s all there is to it. Because that is all there is to it. Pity, that, because he’s the one who triggers the whole plot with Claudio and Hero, and I’m not fond of that plot to begin with. To carry off that plot without making me frowny, it would take more than Reeves’ performance.

Now, I know the whole infidelity plot, with Hero being accused of sleeping with another man the night before her wedding and being told she deserves to die for it? I know that this particular instance is a product of its time. It makes me feel decidedly icky to see a woman attacked because a couple of men decided another man saying her name in the heat of passion was enough proof to accuse her and let her die. It makes me feel ickier still that even before learning of Don John’s deceit, Hero’s father is still cool with his daughter marrying the dude who totally shamed her and left her for dead at their wedding. I love this movie, but I can’t deny that the Hero and Claudio plot skeeves me more than a little and it takes a good deal of reminding myself that it was written in the late 1500s. Thank goodness for the second plot.

Shakespeare liked to do the multiple plot thing, so we get Benedick and Beatrice, whose plot is still a romance, like Hero and Claudio, but with less death and shame. It’s begun with barbs and spurred on by a conspiracy between their friends and family to convince them that those barbs are all a front for true love. Performance-wise, the Hero and Claudio plot isn’t bad, as it has some very well done scenes, especially the confrontation between Leonato, Antonio, Claudio and Don Pedro, but it pales in comparison to Benedick and Beatrice. I have to wonder if, without such standout performances by Thompson and Branagh, if those roles were good but not fantastic, would it be any better in comparison. Are Thompson and Branagh breaking the grade curve here? Maybe. But I wouldn’t want them to be less than what they are in this. From their first lines to their monologues to their cooperation after Hero is accused, to the scene with the sonnets at the end, they make this movie for me. And, with a wonderfully expansive crane shot that follows everyone through the villa and outside to the entire wedding celebration in the garden, it all ends on a happy note.

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May 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

May 15, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

This movie has its flaws. And yet I enjoy it an awful lot. Branagh has imbued the movie with a sense of joy and revelry from the very opening credits (and their extensive nudity.) The delightful banter between Beatrice and Benedick is marvelously well captured It’s hard to say who gives the better performance; Emma Thompson gives soul to a character who is defined by her sharp frivolity, but Kenneth Branagh has a great knack for taking these convoluted Shakespearean speeches and make them human and believable. It makes for some great fun, some laughs.

My favorite parts of the movie are any parts when Beatrice or Benedick are on screen. I still laugh at the scene where Leonato, Claudio and Pedro attempt to ensnare Benedick into love. It’s so well staged and overblown. It doesn’t directly break the fourth wall, but it winks to the audience. The movie doesn’t ask you to take seriously the idea that Benedick would fall for so obvious a trick – instead it delights in the farce of it.

Sadly, however, there is no doubt who gives the worst performance. Keanu Reeves is entirely unable to play the part of Count John. The role as written is sort of an evil Puck. A trickster who delights in creating strife. Or maybe more a petty version of Richard III. He desires to do cause misery in others only because it is the winter of his discontent. I do enjoy Keanu when he is in his element. This, sadly, is not it. It robs the movie of power that the only real villain in the movie is a block of wood. I’m not saying that the movie needs a serious evildoer – rather that it is robbed of some joy that you get no sense that John gets joy from his evildoing.

Also, and I know this will be one of those rare moments that my review diverges from Amanda’s, I do not enjoy the antics of Michael Keaton as the Constable. His performance is so utterly strange and over the top. I’m not sure why I really enjoy the farce of earlier scenes, but his performance grates on me. Maybe it’s that he is so abrasive in his depiction of the character. Again, it seems to me that the potential of the character as written doesn’t match with the performance on screen. The Constable is a character full of comic potential. A doddering silly fool. And yet I wince a little inside whenever he is on screen.

I’ll admit that both of these instances are only in my own perception. Particularly Michael Keaton’s role is performed for laughs, even if it doesn’t get any from me. I feel that there is some greater comedy buried in the words that might have resulted in a different interpretation, but that’s one of the fun things about film adaptations of established works like this – they can be interpreted in so many different ways. (I fully intend to watch three or four Hamlets back to back later in the project to better explore this very concept. If Amanda will agree to undergo such a feat.)

Still – the movie easily overcomes any flaws that I might perceive in it and rises above it all. Literally, in fact, with one of my favorite tracking shots morphing seamlessly into a huge crane shot that pulls up above the capering celebration below in a sublime moment of genius film making. It never fails to bring tears of joy to my eyes. I cannot deny that I truly love this movie. It turns all my sounds of woe to “Hey nonny nonny!”

May 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment