Looking for Richard
1996, PG-13, 109 min. Directed by Al Pacino. Starring Al Pacino, Frederic Kimball, Estelle Parsons, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder, Aidan Quinn, Michael Hadge.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 1, 1996
Al Pacino is looking to better understand William Shakespeare's Richard III. And he's looking everywhere. Throughout the course of Looking for Richard (which was shot over a period of two years), Pacino seeks insight from the discussions that arise during readings and rehearsals for a production of Richard III that he is both directing and starring in; he queries scholars, seasoned Shakespearean actors, and passersby in the street; and he travels to England to visit the place of Shakespeare's birth and the Globe Theatre. His point is that understanding Richard III - both the play and the character -- and, hence, understanding Shakespeare is a process, something that accrues throughout a lifetime, becoming ever richer, deeper, and more focused and rewarding. This movie, which he also directed, appears to be his attempt to share with us some of that passion for Shakespeare, to break through the perceived American reticence toward the Bard and to rid us of our national inferiority complex that smothers us into thinking that Shakespeare is best left to the Brits. Yet for all Pacino's protestations about not fully understanding Richard III and his constant running around trying to get a better grasp, it turns out that Pacino may indeed be one of the text's most gifted explicators. Looking for Richard snaps into sharpest focus whenever Pacino holds forth on his ideas about the king's motivations or when he prods the other players to make sense of their characters. And surely what we are most interested in here is Pacino's interpretation of the villainous king. Throughout the film, we see only snippets of the play as it's performed onstage or during rehearsal readings. Many of those interviewed by Pacino also have interesting comments and insights. Unfortunately, Pacino errs by not identifying the speakers onscreen. Some, such as Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline, James Earl Jones, Derek Jacobi, John Gielgud, and Vanessa Redgrave, are likely to be recognized; the academic scholars, however, are relegated to virtual anonymity. Their commentary carries equal weight with the “man in the street” interviews, which regularly turn up such insightful gems as, “It sucks!” Pacino frequently mugs his way through scenes in an attempt to keep things lively. In this he succeeds, although his actions rarely add anything of substance to our understanding of Richard III. In the end, Looking for Richard is a virtuous attempt to share a love of Shakespeare with a wider audience and reveal something of the actor's process of discovering a character. Yet by proposing that Richard III is so terribly daunting, the movie subjects itself to the very error in logic it is trying to escape. If a bigshot thespian like Al Pacino is having such a hard time with the text, what hope is there for the rest of us? But at least Pacino seems to be enjoying the process of searching. And that seems to be the gist of his message.