The glut of actors with the inclination to direct has caused critics to approach such efforts with a skeptical disdain.
Looking for Richard, Al Pacino’s directorial debut and a brave, inventive and amusing documentary about Shakespeare’s Richard III, faces this sort of biased critique, but a vanity project this is not. Looking for Richard explores what Shakespeare and his play mean to Pacino, other actors and the general public today. As an eager, playful and pushy Pacino talks with the likes of Kevin Kline, James Earl Jones and the anonymous man on the street, he elicits opinions, observations and memories that are funny, moving and profound.
Interspersed between these interviews are outtakes of Pacino in the process of making a film version of Richard III. Rehearsing various roles are Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder, all of whom also appear in a number of recreated scenes from the play.
If Pacino deserves credit for the idea of Looking for Richard, his editing team deserves praised for the execution.
If Pacino deserves credit for the idea of Looking for Richard, his editing team deserves praised for the execution. Alternating from interviews to rehearsal readings to scenes from the play, the documentary jumps briskly along without ever losing coherence. And much of the movie’s humor is a result of well-timed cuts from one scene to the next.
At the center of it all is still Pacino, guiding the cameras and initiating the talk. Even with his Scent of a Woman baseball cap and grizzled maw, Pacino revels in his ringmaster role. Yet if there is a weakness in Looking for Richard, it is Pacino’s unwillingness to tweak that image.
For the most part, however, we see the actor’s domineering persona pushing Shakespeare. Whether he’s explaining Richard III to a high school class (who are half star-struck, half asleep) or arguing with his fellow actors over the play’s themes, Pacino gives Shakespeare a passionate, relevant appeal.