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Director Al Pacino juxtaposes scenes from Richard III, scenes of rehearsals for Richard III, and sessions where parties involved discuss the play, the times that shaped the play, and the events that happened at the time the play is set. Interviews with mostly British actors are also included, attempting to explain why American actors have more problems performing Shakespearean plays than they do. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Looking for Richard frames the essential postmodern question in its own terms: Is this a film about Richard III, or is this a film about a film about Richard III? Cameras follow Al Pacino as he wanders New York, sometimes on foot, but more often in the back of a limousine. We're not sure what he's doing, except it has something to do with Shakespeare's play Richard III. There are rehearsals with familiar actors, and actual performances, some seemingly on stage, some on sets, some on location, all of it interspersed with discussion about the play. Is the play actually to be staged, or is it all a show for the film? We don't know, and really, it doesn't matter. For the most part, this is a pleasant meditation on its subject.
Pacino has chosen a treacherous path: on one side stands the dauntingly complex Shakespeare play, and on the other the patronizing attempts to simplify it for the modern audience. There were several times when I felt talked down to by the actors, but just as many where I felt I benefited from the expanded explanation. Also, with Pacino so vibrantly at the center of every scene and little attention given to others, the film unavoidably has the flavor of a vanity project.
What the film does convey effectively is the power of theater to transport people intellectually and emotionally. The contrast between Pacino's stuttering attempts to summarize certain plot points and his magnificent animation as Richard is fascinating. Like the story (possibly apocryphal) about how Picasso, when asked to explain the meaning of one of his paintings, replied that if he could do that, he wouldn't need to paint, even inarticulate actors possess remarkable powers when inhabiting their roles. This insight was the film's central revelation for me.
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