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Off With His Head

Al Pacino & Winona Ryder
And Then I Told Marlon: Al Pacino pontificates on art, life and acting to Winona Ryder in "Looking for Richard."

In 'Richard,' Al Pacino indulges his actor's vanity

By Richard von Busack

'AL PACINO wears three hats as director, creator and star," comments the press kit for Looking for Richard. Yes, and he has a head big enough for all three. In this consistently aggravating vanity production, Pacino takes us backstage during a production of Richard III. But Looking for Richard is not an investigation of Shakespeare's play; it's a vehicle for a slumming star, clowning around in a home movie.

It's not that Pacino fails in the role--though he does. What makes Looking for Richard such a pain is that he never gives anyone else a chance, stepping on the rest of the cast in his play within a play, just as he pushes around anyone who disagrees with him during the rehearsal stage, even humiliating a friend he'd hired as a Shakespeare coach.

Pacino has been carrying Looking for Richard around as a personal obsession for years. "Uneven" would be a kind word for the performance, shot during readings and dress rehearsals. You see how his performance changes. In the beginning, he's trying/to talk/in iambic/pentam/eter stiffly, unnaturally. By the end, he's abandoned the poetic reading in favor of the naturalistic interpretation.

In between these extremes, Pacino consults Vanessa Redgrave, Kenneth Branagh and John Gielgud. The last, rather gently under the circumstances, suggests that British actors appear to have more authority at Shakespeare because they've read more books. Ignoring this advice, Pacino shies away from a big volume of Shakespeare someone tries to give him, as if the devil himself had offered it.

Kevin Spacey excels as Buckingham, pressing his rights and being stiffed. His dialogue rolls with no issue of meter, no issue of accenting; it sounds like human speech, only better--which is the best way to play Shakespeare. Alec Baldwin's Clarence bargains for his life with the studied sincerity (and cloaked desperation) of a televangelist; he seems convinced right up to the end that he can talk his murderers out of their task.

Winona Ryder as Lady Anne is not half bad, either, although Pacino interrupts her speech of mourning to make more room for himself. When we next see her, she's wearing one of those conical dunce hats that I'm told are even banned at the Renaissance Faire, let alone at every respectable theater group this side of Australia.

The last act is Pacino's favorite, he claims, perhaps because he gets to rage in it--he is a superior rager. The other moods of the part--the false tenderness, the self-pity, the charm of a snake--all elude him. Seven Oscar nominations and one final Oscar for a mawkish piece of work like Scent of a Woman would tend to solidify anybody's acting style.

At this point in his career, Pacino resembles the anecdotal dog in La Strada that wants to say hello but can only bark. Digging into the motivation for Richard's purges, he wonders aloud, "[Richard] suspects all those around him; he has no friends. ... He has let the pursuit of power totally corrupt him." Whether this description better fits Shakespeare's king or Pacino himself, is up to the viewer.

Looking for Richard (PG-13; 119 min.), directed by Al Pacino and starring Pacino.

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From the October 24-30, 1996 issue of Metro

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