Despite asking valid and important questions, such as ‘why don’t more Americans perform/respond to Shakespeare,’ Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard seemed to me to be a little off kilter. The film is a documentary of sorts, following Pacino through four years of talking about Richard III with fellow actors (both American and British), average people on the streets, and in table readings with actors who strenuously debate the meaning of certain aspects of the play. Yet with all this material, most of it very entertaining and thought provoking, I came away feeling like he hadn’t really put it all together.
I recently watched Ian McKellen’s Richard III, which was set in neo-Nazi 1930s England, and I couldn’t help but compare it with the brief snippets of the play that Pacino includes here. The acting in Looking for Richard doesn’t even come close to matching, especially w/r/t the role of Richard Gloucester. Pacino displays the same theatrics here that made watching his Shylock such a chore, and though this is 1995, I can’t help but see Pacino as past his prime: he is more ‘Pacino’ after 1992 than he is the character he is playing. His insights into the role are of interest, but his performance is not. However, the other actors do commendable work, especially Penelope Allen as Queen Elizabeth.
But to criticize too much in this area would be doing the film an injustice. It supposes to be an interpretation, not merely a documentary. By bringing together many great minds, Pacino attempts to illuminate what is magical about Shakespeare, and further to explain why that magic is relevant to contemporary Americans. In this I believe he falls short, but he did help me see what is so magical about the theater and the art of choices that must be made within.
Bringing together a stellar set of actors, from Kevin Spacey to F. Murray Abraham, Pacino sits everyone around a large wooden table where they read from the play dramatically. Of course, these are impassioned people, and it is not long before a point of contention is loudly debated. This method of determining the artistic vision of the production was amazing, and the necessity of getting everyone on the same page with regards to that interpretation is cleverly done here. It is a communal effort, and by allowing us to see the mechanics behind the acting, the entire production is raised to a level that would have been unattainable otherwise.
However, I do think more attention could have been paid to the Shakespeareans Kenneth Branagh and Derek Jacobi, for their conversations were brief and unremarkable. They hint at the American/Shakespeare question that never is answered, and this seemed a failure to me.
Not being needful of persuasion as to Shakespeare’s importance in my American life, I may not have been the target audience for Pacino. He presents an engaging and interesting look at Richard III and the way in which theater is performed. In these respects the film succeeds and in the end I must say that it achieves more than it fails. It was an admirable effort, and I would be interested to see more films such as this in the future.
Look for views on McKellen's portrayal in the near future.