Review: Modern Retelling of Measure for Measure Falls Slightly Short in Achieving Excellence
Measure for Measure, written by Damian Hill and Paul Ireland, showcases the explosive and dangerous relationship between a Muslim girl and a young musician which has the viewer engaged until the very end. While the movie is thrilling, yet touching, exploring how far you will go for those you love, the combination of an ending that falls flat and confusion on relationships and timelines, results in the viewer becoming shocked, unsatisfied, and left with many unanswered questions.
Jaiwara, who mirrors the Shakespearean characters of Juliet and Isabelle, falls in love with Claudio. Throughout the beginning of the film, Jaiwara struggles with knowing that love between them, especially in her family, is forbidden. The viewer can immediately tell that she is willing to break these religious barriers, feeling as if they are holding her back from her true self. When Claudio is arrested and placed in jail by Jaiwara’s brother Farouk, Jaiwara must depend on the world of a crime boss, and choosing between her family and her love, to save Claudio’ life.
On the other hand, Duke is an older crime boss who is forced into hiding. He leaves Angelo in charge of his crime ring, leaving him the choice to rule with power and force or redeem himself of his past choices.
The film projects a modern retelling of the Shakespeare play of the same name. However, unlike many modern retellings of Shakespearean plays spoken in the original dialogue, this adaptation was not. Instead it stands alone as its own film, not simply another version of Shakespeare. This is brilliant and, where many other Shakespearean adaptations fall flat, allows for the audience who is not familiar with “Measure for Measure” or Shakespeare to emerge themselves in the film.
While the film does many things right, as aforementioned, Ireland’s adaptation falls short in multiple areas. To start off, in terms of plot, the timeline in between scenes is very confusing. Initially it seems as if Jaiwara and Claudio meet after the events of the first scene and within five minutes they are in love. How much time actually passes between when they meet and when they fall in love. I recognize that in many Shakespeare plays characters fall in love somewhat quickly, but in a modern film inspired by Shakespeare it appears almost unrealistic. Granted the initial time sequence could be longer than it appears, but Ireland should have made this more clear from the beginning.
Throughout the whole film, it seemed like something was missing, especially in scenes involving Angelo. It took me until the final moments of the film to realize what that was. While his downward spiral is clearly drawn out, his relationship with individuals such as Duke, as well as his past. Even though it is mentioned how the Duke-Angelo relationship resembles that of a father-son bond, the development between the two characters is focused solely on their foundation, and is rarely explored beyond that. This can relate to Angelo’s past as well, which is mentioned in a few lines, but then fails to find any connection to the rest of the film.
The relationship between Duke and Lukey also fails to make any real connection. Now, seemingly this initially had no major impact on the film. However, that is simply not the case. Their final moments leaves the audience confused beyond belief.
Which leads to a final critique: the ending should have ended earlier than the actual ending. The final moments were prolonged, as if Ireland wanted to try and tie up every single loose end. However, by doing so, the result is the viewer becoming shocked, unsatisfied and left with questions that only resurfaced in the very last moments. Frankly, the ending might leave some even angry.
This is not to say that the film does not have its strong moments. In terms of the acting, each individual actor runs with their character, making every scene feel as though their raw emotions were expelled. Megan Hajjar as Jaiwara passionately expresses the pain of being in love with someone who is deemed as forbidden. She believably draws the audience in, as if we were experiencing her trauma with her. Despite some backstory confusion with the character of Angelo, Mark Leonard Winter brilliantly expresses a man who is going mad with power, slowly depicting him as crazier than the scene prior. His appearance in the film allows for Angelo to appear as almost charming at first, before realizing his truly villainous mind and creepy intentions.
Writers Damian Hill and Paul Ireland were brilliant in incorporating music in the relationship between Jaiwara and Claudio. Jaiwara mentions early on that she is forbidden to love someone who is not Muslim stating: “My family, they’re not as modern as some. In my world, we are forbidden.” The next scene in Claudio’s apartment depicts the two depicting and sharing their emotions/feelings through the song “I’m not supposed to love you” playing in the background. Music gives them insight into each other’s world. She even goes as far as to take off her hijab, symbolizing that she does not care for the stigma placed upon her by her family and religion.
In comparison to the original Shakespeare play, both are meant to create a focus on the idea of justice, redemption and love. Throughout both the play and the film, Angelo has a chance to redeem himself from his past, yet always falls short. I would say that the film is more loosely based on the initial play; however, Ireland is able to adapt to a more modern context, allowing for the audience to relate on a greater level with the characters. Measure for Measure is considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays: whereas these plays are characterized by their ambiguous tone, shifting from suddenly from dark to a psychological drama, to comedic. This term, coined by F.S. Boas (Shakespeare and His Predecessors, 1896), usually involves a protagonist in a situation representative of a contemporary social problem.
The main question is does this adaptation fit this Shakespearean mold? I’d say for the most part it does. The film primarily has dark, dramatic undertones that makes the viewer think. Yet, there are some moments of light humor to break up the tension. Even though Measure for Measure is a problem play, it is technically considered to be a Shakespearean comedy, which the film heavily shies away from. I believe that the choice to be more of a dark, thriller benefits the movie. To make it more comedic would be to make the film cheesy, which it definitely is not.
Although Paul Ireland’s Measure for Measure falls short of being classified as an excellent film, it thrives on asking the question of how far we would go to be with the ones we love. The study of these in depth emotions, as well as the idea of redemption, proves well-developed and thought-provoking. If not for minor details and the final moments of the film, Measure for Measure could have been incredible. Even though the film falls flat, the audience is able to find enjoyment in the plot and characters, despite moments of confusion and shock.