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Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh)

Posted by martinteller on August 14, 2013

You might think I wanted to watch this because of the recent Joss Whedon adaptation of the same play.  A reasonable assumption, but you’d be wrong.  I watched it because it’s my girlfriend’s favorite movie (she also saw Whedon’s version and hated it) and she bought it for me on Blu-Ray, wanting to share something that she loves.  A very sweet gesture, in my opinion, and one that endears her even more to me.

She has certain associations and personal connections to the movie that make it special for her, but that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable.  This is my first experience with this particular play, or with any of Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations.  I found it one of the most accessible takes on Shakespeare that I’ve ever seen, requiring the film to be paused only once to explain something to me (what the hell is Don John’s problem?) and once again for clarification (Hero’s not really dead, right?).  Otherwise, it was quite effortless to follow, despite a dense and speedy narrative.  The actors aren’t too busy showboating to make their characters’ intentions clear, the staging and blocking help make the twisty and convoluted story rather easy to get wrapped up in.

Most of the principal actors are terrific.  Denzel Washington can pretty much always be counted on as a commanding presence, and my only complaint there is that I wanted more of him.  Branagh and Thompson are both delightful, allowing the wit of the Benedick/Beatrice banter to truly shine.  Robert Sean Leonard and Kate Beckinsale are pleasant as the young lovers.  And Michael Keaton is an actor I appreciate more and more with every film, and although his turn as Dogberry seems to have caused consternation among some viewers, I thought he was really f’ing funny.

Which leaves, of course, Keanu Reeves.  I’m almost inclined to give Branagh credit for a brilliant bit of casting, as Don John is the most wooden, uninteresting, humorless and shallow character in the play.  Who better for that than Keanu?  But no, he’s just a bore to watch and almost anyone would be better.

My other gripes are more with the source material than Branagh’s production.  While the Benedick/Beatrice thread is quite a hoot, the Claudio/Hero story leaves something to be desired, with almost everyone looking like a total jerk… acting impulsively, coldly manipulating, or just being too much a product of the times.  I liked very few of the decisions anyone made in this thread, which led me to care less about the outcome.

But for the most part, I really enjoyed this film as a lighthearted romp, albeit one with some disturbing implications.  The real pleasure for me was watching my gal’s face light up with delight at the giddy joy, ecstatic camera movement, sparkling humor and romantic notions onscreen.  Sweetie, you may think I think you’re foolish for loving your romantic comedies.  I don’t.  Anything that makes you so happy is perfectly lovely with me.  Rating: Good (75)


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