Independent Pick: Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
In the thick of his $220 million-budget Marvel behemoth The Avengers, director Joss Whedon wrote, directed, produced, edited and scored this Shakespearean adaptation – in lieu of a month-long vacation. The tale of misunderstanding, misdirection and manipulation tells of Hero and Claudio, rushing to be in love, and Beatrice and Benedick, reluctant in romance and denying their devotion. Claudio and Benedick are in the company of the Prince, Don Pedro, and his brother, Don John, when they arrive at the home of Hero’s father, Leonato. What begins as a playful sojourn soon descends into twisted chaos, as the villainous Don John sets about ruining lives.
With only a month from inception to production, followed by a 12-day shoot, Whedon used his own home as the set, the actor’s own clothes as the costumes, and multiple hand-held digital cameras to create a genuinely intimate atmosphere. Filmed entirely in black-and-white, the director employed natural lighting – incorporating lots of mirrors, glass and windows in each scene to accentuate the warped nature of the story.
Amy Acker (Angel), as the acerbic Beatrice, crafts her performance with such delicacy that she truly inhabits the soul of this complex woman who may seem jaded, but really doth protest too much. Reed Diamond (Dollhouse), as Don Pedro, exudes quiet authority, while Clark Gregg (The Avengers) looks to be having the time of his life as the jovial and esteemed host, Leonato.
Though Nathan Fillion (Castle) steals every one of his scenes as Dogberry, the bumbling chief of the Night Watch, the real stand-out here is Alexis Denisof (Angel) as Benedick. With a mixture of comedy, romance and drama required of this character, Denisof avoids the traditional Shakespearean scenery-chewing and instead delivers the full range of emotion quietly, but with intimidating presence – hitting exactly the right note, at exactly the right moment.
The greatest barrier to Shakespeare is always the language, and it is the job of the actors to make that accessible. The intention of their words must be made clear through their expression, and this cast achieves that with ease – their every utterance seeming entirely natural, so the audience does not simply watch this film – they feel it.
Ultimately, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is filmmaking at its most impressive. No budget, no hype, no sensationalism – just raw talent and deep passion filling every single frame.