Looking for Richard (Al Pacino)

Rating: **1/2 (out of ****)

Looking for Richard, a labor of love for first-time director Pacino (who financed it entirely out of his own pocket), might well be fascinating to people unfamiliar with Shakespeare generally and Richard III specifically; for those who've already encountered the play and its author, however, watching it is a bit like attending an introductory lecture about a subject you've been studying intensely for several years. In my case, the phrase "yeah, yeah, let's move on" sprang to mind virtually every five minutes...but keep in mind that I'm not part of the film's target audience. (I must say that I'm skeptical that the target audience -- modern-day groundlings -- will venture to an arthouse near them to see it.) Eager to make the play comprehensible and accessible to the Average Jo(e), Pacino spends a great deal of the film's running time explaining Richard III's admittedly convoluted plot, and consequently devotes little or no time to discussing its themes, subtext, or historical and cultural significance; if you already know what happens in the play (and in the Henry VI plays that precede it), and already know what iambic pentameter is, and already understand the pun in the opening line ("son of York"), then there isn't much of interest here apart from the play itself, only a small fraction of which is actually performed. And while the actors who appear in Looking for Richard's play-within-the-film -- including Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Kevin Spacey, Aidan Quinn, and of course Pacino himself -- are reasonably able (especially Penelope Allen as Elizabeth), they don't hold a candle to those in Richard Loncraine's terrific adaptation of last year (Annette Bening's and Robert Downey Jr.'s lackluster work in that film excepted; Pacino works hard to make the case for American actors performing Shakespeare, but the results speak for themselves: the Brits in the Loncraine version walk all over the Americans in both that film and Pacino's). I was further irritated by the coy way that Pacino pretended not to know lots of elementary things that anybody who had ever performed the play (he's performed Richard several times) would have learned during the first week of rehearsal, so that others could explain them to him (that is, to us). Better simply to address the camera directly than feign ignorance in what is allegedly a behind-the-scenes documentary. All that said, I must stress again that Looking for Richard wasn't made for folks like me, and hence in this case my opinion is even more dismissible than usual. (And here you'd thought that was impossible....)