“Measure for Measure,” based upon the Shakespearean play of the same name, is written by Damian Hill and Paul Ireland. While the writers change some key elements and bring the premise into today’s violent and unpredictable world, the complexity and depth of story remains making it a captivatingly entertaining film. And no, you don’t have to be a fan of or even understand Shakespeare to appreciate this well-acted and deftly directed movie.
A ripple effect is at play when a shooting spree near a tenement area in a city forces many worlds to collide. Duke (Hugo Weaving), the patriarch of one underground criminal faction, and his lackey, Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) who has been groomed to take over his spot when he retires, witnesses the brutal attack beneath the penthouse windows near the housing complex. The attack continues, placing Claudio (Harrison Gilbertson), a young talented composer who innocently is nearby, in harm’s way, but he bravely saves the next victim by tackling the out of control gunman. After the emotional trauma of near death, Claudio and the woman he saved, Jaiwara (Megan Smart), connect. Their love grows but like many Shakespearean scenarios, the two families are from different worlds and their love is forbidden.
The story takes another violent turn as Farouk (Fayssal Bazzi), Duke’s rival in the criminal world and Jaiwara’s brother, finds out about the relationship and sets up Claudio for a crime he did not commit. Claudio’s life has become a living hell and his only hope is a long-lost connection to Duke. The storylines intersect as Duke tests Angelo, revealing his true colors.
This film, at its core, is a troubled and perhaps a doomed love story as it questions whether or not Jaiwara and Claudio can overcome racial prejudices and religious restrictions. As Jaiwara is placed in inconceivable situations, she is at a crossroads which force her choose between love and life, much like Romeo and Juliet. Staying true to Shakespeare, there is plenty of backstabbing and even a bit of poisoning but we always feel that we are watching a current day story. It’s a brilliant amalgam of one of history’s greatest writers with complicated and intersecting storylines meeting today’s issues of gun control, drugs, religion, racism, and poverty.
Weaving is more than comfortable as the head honcho who has his own sordid and sorrowful backstory that has lead him to his current situation. His deep voice with his signature pacing and articulation adds to his credible performance of an old-school mobster; wise, regretful, with hope waning. The relationship between his character and that of Angelo is as troubled as the young lovers’ relationship and Winter finds just the right pacing with an understated performance to create a smarmy, conniving, directionless man with a moral compass that cannot be corrected.
As the love story is the heart and soul of the film, Gilbertson and Smart have to have an on-screen chemistry that will sweep you away…and they do. As we witness the characters’ relationship and love grow, we, too, are enamored with them both. It’s a pure love that perhaps only exists in movies and plays, but it’s one that we want to believe is possible. And our hearts break as the outside world places undue stressors upon that love. Individually, Smart expertly depicts the daughter of an immigrant family whose assimilation into her new country is looked down upon. She’s an intelligent and devoted family member who struggles to find a balance between her wants and those of her mother and the golden son, Farouk. Smart’s interpretation of Jaiwara is soulful with her eyes conveying everything and we feel her every thought and emotion. Gilbertson is equally engaging as his charisma is immediately evident. His youthful round face conveys an innocence as his character is a creative one and he shines brightly when in the presence of his character’s love. Gilbertson finds an incredible depth of character when Claudio is placed in jail, beaten, threatened and making a choice that could change both he and Jaiwara forever. The emotional turmoil he exhibits overtly as well as subtly, is expertly conveyed and connects us more deeply to him.
“Measure for Measure” is a gripping and tension-filled drama which blends a classic tale of love, betrayal, and honor into the reality of today’s world. The writers, taking a few liberties with the Shakespearean version, make it a more credible story and one from which you cannot look away. You become invested in this couple and Duke, hoping for the best and fearing for the worst. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, involuntarily holding your breath as you await the final scene and it’s a doozy. With extraordinary performances, never overstated, and a complicated yet realistic story, the film version of “Measure for Measure” would have made Shakespeare proud.
You can stream “Measure for Measure” on all major digital platforms and on-demand.