Looking for Richard (1996)

D: Al Pacino
S: Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder

Slightly smug but very interesting combination of documentary exploration of the meaning of Shakespeare's Richard III and a staging of the play itself in various locales by Pacino and an all-star cast of actors. Framed by constant discussion and occasionally bickering between Pacino and Frederic Kimball, the film addresses such questions as the perception of Shakespeare in contemporary America, the role of the actor as interpreter of the dramatic text, casting, direction, and iambic pentameter. It also features interviews and discussion sessions with a range of theatrical personalities including Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Sir John Gielgud, Kevin Kline and James Earl Jones.

Thankfully the film avoids the pedantic tone which so often mars serious discussion of Shakespeare. Pacino anchors the film with what one is supposed to presume is his own personality; a serious actor with a sense of humour trying to pursue a personal project with some sense of fun but also a deep interest in the subject. We don't entirely buy it, there are too many questions about actors' masks to entirely accept at face value that what we see and hear is not contrived for entertainment. But entertaining it is, and the film moves briskly along through the various backstage arguments and analytical questions with practical illustration in the form of the staged sequences.

It sometimes smacks of a publicity exercise, and like the in some ways similar In Bed With Madonna / Truth or Dare, it is a case of bluff and counter bluff as to how 'documentary' this 'documentary' is. It is nonetheless interesting though, and asks many pointed questions of the play and of the audience which are worth hearing and responding to.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.