Looking for Answers in Looking for Richard
Al Pacino's "Looking for Richard" is an unusual film. It is a documentary about the complexities of Shakespeare, the performing of the play Richard III, and the ignorance of the average American regarding Shakespeare. The unusual nature of the film - it's similar to a filmed Cliff-notes version of the text - provokes wildly different reactions from film buffs, critics, and Shakespeare purists. A perusal of five different reviews of the film show such variant descriptors that range from Mary Brennan's comment that the documentary is "decidedly narcissistic" to Edwin Jahiel's comment that the film is an "original, mesmerizing exploration." The rather wide incongruity between the reviews leads to an interesting juxtaposition of its critiques, as we examine the reasons "Looking for Richard" incites such strong responses from its proponents and detractors.
A summarized look at each of the reviews reveals the wide range among the criticisms. The first review, by Mary Brennan and posted on the Film.Com web site, is generally positive, despite the aforementioned quotation that the documentary is "decidedly narcissistic." Brennan found herself enjoying the film despite herself, enjoying the "extraordinarily riveting" way the film dissected Shakespeare. However, every endorsement of the film is subsequently balanced by a disparaging remark about it. Brennan calls some of the rehearsals "thoroughly entertaining," then says that the endless scenes of Pacino "mugging into the camera... rapidly lose their charm." Still, she seems to enjoy the film despite its perceived weaknesses. Al Pacino's posturing is "exasperating but likable," and the whole package is enjoyable. Brennan seems to take the not-uncommon view that Pacino revealed his ego prominently throughout "Looking for Richard," but that along with it he revealed Shakespeare's text with exceptional clarity.
Part of the issue when perusing these reviews is to determine what the critic perceived the purpose of Pacino's film to be. Brennan's hypothesis is that Pacino's primary objective is to find meaning in Richard III, and the secondary objectives include creating an accessible version of the play the Mr. Joe Average can understand, while portraying the acting process when faced with such a formidable text. How a critic views the goals of the film directly relates to how well he or she believes Pacino achieved these goals, so it is important to discuss them.
Dre, a Girls on Film critic, offers another similar conjecture as to what Pacino's goals for the film were. According to the first-name only Dre, the purpose of the film was to present a tribute to Shakespeare, to explore the acting process, and to explain and portray a version of Richard III. Giving the film the page's highest rating, it is obvious that Dre feels the film delivers on its goals.
In fact, much of Dre's words match quite closely with the reasons Pacino stated...