High-spirited and infectiously energetic, Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard is a master class in Shakespeare and acting conducted by an uncommonly passionate and delightful teacher. Ranging from New York’s streets to the reconstructed Globe Theater in London, Pacino is the voluble, mercurial center of a film that ingeniously interweaves commentary on Shakespeare with analysis of, rehearsals for and key segments from a Richard III on film.
Pic’s initial section registers some of the barriers to general appreciation as Pacino, wearing a backward baseball cap and quizzical expression, samples man-in-the-street opinions as to the off-putting difficulties of Shakespeare’s 16th-century lingo. Pic also registers its challenges for American actors who, as John Gielgud notes, often don’t grow up experiencing the books and museums that provide the literature’s cultural context.
Yet Pacino draws in scholars as well as other actors to elucidate the War of the Roses and other elements of the historical backdrop. Watching topnotch actors grapple with these roles gives both the history and the literature a vivid immediacy.
Key scenes offer a surprisingly complete sense of the drama’s trajectory. Richard seduces Lady Anne (Winona Ryder) with his bold lies; Clarence (Alec Baldwin) meets his pathetic end; Richard uses, then abandons, Buckingham (Kevin Spacey); and, finally, Richard faces his own doom in the form of Richmond (Aidan Quinn).
What starts as history lessons and rehearsals has, by its end, left behind all intellectual props and achieved a magnificent emotional force.