Looking for Richard is a film by an actor about a play by a poet. More or less.
Al Pacino’s 1996 documentary is an entertaining introduction to Shakespeare, and specifically the Bard’s Richard III (a play about the hunchbacked king of England who presumably had “the princes in the tower” killed). It follows Pacino and his crew off and on for four years (!) as he wrestles with the text, conducts man-on-the-street interviews about Shakespeare, consults scholars and experienced Shakespearean actors (such as John Gielgud, Kenneth Branagh, and Vanessa Redgrave), and tours Stratford-Upon-Avon.It shows how an actor or director might approach Shakespeare, and presents numerous scenes from Richard III as invaluable illustrative material.
As a Shakespeare nut but non-scholar, I was surprised that Pacino and many of the other actors he gathered for roles in the scenes (Alec Baldwin, Estelle Parsons, Aidan Quinn, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline, Winona Ryder, etc.) seemed to know little about the play and its context—and Shakespeare in general. I also wondered as I watched why in the world he didn’t follow up the documentary with a film version of the play, learning later that he had originally intended to film the play but decided that he could never equal Olivier’s 1955 version. And I was a tad irritated that some issues (like the play’s propaganda value in Elizabethan England) never came up, and the exterior “Tower” shots were obviously not the Tower of London (they were, in fact, the tower of The Cloisters in upper Manhattan).
But those are quibbles. I loved it. It was always interesting, often surprising, and sometimes insightful. It would be extremely helpful for anyone to watch before seeing a performance of Richard III, and is a must-see for any students of acting or Shakespeare.