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A Midsummer Night's Dream


A Midsummer Night's Dream

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Aside from the beautifully eccentric Romeo + Juliet and Richard III, the '90s have not been a great decade for Shakespeare adaptations, the more straightforward of which have ranged from woefully uneven (Twelfth Night, Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet) to attractively tepid (Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing) to solid but unmemorable (Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet). Which is part, but hardly all, of what makes this new take on A Midsummer Night's Dream remarkable. Director Michael Hoffman (Soapdish, One Fine Day) leads a first-rate cast in an intelligent, fully realized adaptation of Shakespeare's most popular comedy that's at once highly cinematic and true to its source. After the praise heaped on Shakespeare In Love, at heart a fairly simple love story, it's a pleasure to see a film that fully captures the complexity of Shakespeare's grasp on the subject of love, from the mercurial, moony variety of Dream's younger protagonists (played skillfully by Christian Bale, Anna Friel, Dominic West, and Calista Flockhart) to the more mature, but no less dramatic, tribulations of its older characters, which include Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Everett's decidedly human interpretations of the fairy potentates Titania and Oberon. It's Kevin Kline's complex, pathos-rich interpretation of Bottom, however, that best captures the richness of Hoffman's film. An often broadly played character, the weaver with creative aspirations becomes the heart of the film, both a braying example of love's ability to alter reality and a quiet acknowledgment that any attempt to portray the feeling of love ultimately falls short. Add to this the film's beautiful production design, Hoffman's willingness to take his time and let the language do the talking without creating a stagy atmosphere, and a wry Puck played by Stanley Tucci, and A Midsummer Night's Dream begins to look like a version of Shakespeare for the ages.