Friday, September 4, 2020

Paul Ireland/Damian Hill's very loose adaptation of Shakespeare's MEASURE FOR MEASURE, against all odds, succeeds!

Can a modern adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's more problematic "problem plays" possibly work while leaving out the Bard's own never-been-bettered writing, sticking only to the basic plot (and then changing even a good deal of that) while adhering to the play's major themes? 

On the basis of the latest attempt, the new Australian movie MEASURE FOR MEASURE, directed by Paul Ireland with a screenplay adapted by Mr. Ireland and the late Damian Hill, indeed it can. OK: This is definitely not Shakespeare. But somehow, and against great odds, it is Measure for Measure because it gets to the heart of that supremely difficult play -- of which TrustMovies has never yet seen a thoroughly successful theatrical production.

This Ireland/Hill adaptation (the director's shown above, at right, co-writer Hill at left) is set in present-day Melbourne in a society ravaged by white/colored divisions, as well as anti-Muslim sentiment and is peopled here by a mostly criminal element, with its crime lords -- one white (played by Hugo Weaving as Duke, below), the other Muslim (Fayssal Bazzi, of the Stateless series, as Farouk, shown at bottom, left) having agreed to somehow share the turf.

In this version the Claudio and Isabella characters (here Isabella is Farouk's sister, Jaiwara) are not siblings but lovers, which fits into her pleading for his life just fine, and also underscores the theme of fractured community inherent in the original play. As portrayed by Harrison Gilbertson and Megan Hajjar (or Megan Smart, according to the IMDB), these performances help anchor the movie, as well.

The movie's (as well as the play's) villain is again Angelo, (the) Duke's chief henchman, and as good as is Hugo Weaving, the film's best performance comes from Mark Leonard Winter (above) in this role. Angelo, as are almost all the other characters, is highly conflicted, and his terrific, deeply felt performance captures this in spades. 

The gangland milieu serves the story well, and Ireland's and Hill's ability to capture so many of the play's important themes -- morality, hypocrisy, justice and forgiveness among them -- while giving each of these full emotional and dramatic weight helps turns this Measure for Measure  (even without the Shakespeare poetry) into something major, surprising and often quite splendid. And if the plot itself is pure melodrama, well, so's the original.

From Samuel Goldwyn Films and running 107 minutes, the movie is available now via VOD and digital streaming -- for purchase and/or rental.

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