Al Pacino's pet project sets out to express his conviction that the Bard is good for your health, through a graft of delivered scenes from Richard III (the case study) and documentary debate with both actors and members of the public. Which makes the film far from the snotty, high-blown luvvie-in you might expect, and a wry, honest inspection of the divide between what Shakespeare can really do or you and most people's belief that his iambic speechifying is really boring.
Pacino's directorial debut leads you, the viewer, on an odyssey inside the hearts and minds of actors wrestling with Richard III: Shakespeare's infamous tale of powerlust, bloodlust, revenge and betrayal. The onscreen action tracks meetings and rehearsals, discussions and arguments, all interspersed with interviews (Gielgud, Jacobi, Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, Kevin Kline et al) on the nature of the beasts of The Bard in general and Richard in particular.
As the film progresses, the cast's performance of the play comes to the fore but Looking For Richard is far more a journey than a destination. Actors are shown in and out of character, speaking their lines or directly to camera with insights and revelations such as, "We're getting 40 dollars a day and all the donuts we can eat" (Baldwin).
Pacino - who spent years on this project as his hair changes testify - is uniformly hilarious whether rowing with his producer Michael Hadge or wandering around New York canvassing passers-by for opinions. He also visits London's New Globe (when under construction) and Straford-upon-Avon where, for reasons too bizarre to explain, he attracts the fire brigade to a listed monument.
In among all this jolity, the play is de-constructed, words translated, plots explained, and the whole demystified so that this will automatically become a English Lit. course staple. But it is so much more...
Pacino has made an informative, engrossing and hugely enjoyable movie that stands as a work of pure entertainment, almost as powerful as its inspiration.