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LOOKING FOR RICHARD, 1996
Starring: Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Conway, Winona Ryder, Estelle Parsons, Harris Yulin, Vincent Angell, Penelope Allen
Director Al Pacino juxtaposes scene's 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.
Al Pacino invites the camera into his own production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. With in-depth interviews and his own analysis, Pacino searches for the essence of his character Richard whilst simultaneously asking what relevance Richard III has to modern day theatre and it’s modern day performers.
It’s very rare for actors to invite an audience into the intimate process of their craft. But in 1996 one of cinema’s greatest screen actors: Al Pacino decided to make a documentary that did just that. Looking For Richard would also mark Pacino’s first official directing debut (he had previously been directing The Local Stigmatic (1990) but this has still yet to be released). Looking For Richard would also win Pacino the coveted Director’s Guild of America award for: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary in 1997.
When we think about Al Pacino’s acting work, we always think of him in The Godfather (1972) or Scarface (1983) essentially his work in film. It’s almost funny to think that his work in the theatre (which is a huge body of work too) gets forgotten. Like many actors Pacino began his acting career in the theatre and it was here that he got the interest of the directors like Francis Ford Coppola who would help him move into film acting. But where a lot of actors never look back once they’ve left the stage, Pacino made a conscious effort to return to the theatre even after he became a hugely successful screen actor.
So Looking For Richard bridges the gap between his work in the theatre and his work on screen. It’s a documentary like no other. It shows Pacino both in character and out of character and gives his audience a unique glimpse into who the real Al Pacino is, what he does when preparing for a part and how he uses his acting method to tackle Shakespeare. Out of character, Pacino is like a painter, an artist and perhaps even a poet. It’s a huge contrast from the persona one would expect from the man who played: Michael Corleone, Tony Montana and Frank Serpico.
In Looking For Richard Pacino brings with him a star-studded cast including: Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder and Alec Baldwin. They join Pacino in the journey to find the truth behind their characters and in turn the play Richard III. It’s fascinating to watch such talent sat around the table and pick over the lines written by Shakespeare. Pacino (with the other actors) discusses what each character is expressing emotionally through the language but at the same time he asks why modern day actors struggle with delivering Shakespeare’s written word?
One of the most interesting parts in the movie is watching Pacino build the character of Richard. His friends and associates speak of how he studied the movements and body mechanics of an orangutan in the zoo for hours because he wanted to bring this to his portrayal. Acting is not merely a job for Pacino, rather a lifetime obsession that will never cease! His passion can be seen to influence and push his fellow actors to higher level too. This is very notable in the sequence where Pacino and Winona Ryder play out one of their scenes on the stage. The acting is raw and completely engaging in its a basic and simplistic form.
Looking For Richard is also a wonderful film for young aspiring actors to watch and see how a true professional approaches Shakespeare. The camera shows you the conviction that great actors have for the material. How the celebrity, glamour and idol worship of screen acting (that seduces people via television) actually has nothing to do with the craft required to do the job of acting. Watching Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino discussing the play back-stage also shows you how clever the great actors are. How perceptive they have to be to understand and then project the character they’re playing.
Looking For Richard is a very complex movie and hard to really cover in just one review. Like all great documentaries, Looking For Richard will appeal to different people in different ways. It has a unique structure that somehow manages to keep your interest and cover Pacino’s process without you feeling that he’s left something out. It would have been great if Pacino’s contemporaries like: Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman had made films like this about their own craft. Although this is what makes Looking For Richard such a gem of a movie. There really isn’t anything quite like this movie and it is a film that certainly deserves to be seen more than once!
Surinder Singh – April 2010
LOOKING FOR RICHARD