Avon calling

Romeo & Juliet and Looking for Richard leave audiences Bard silly

At least Romeo & Juliet actually shows the modern relevance of the story; Looking for Richard merely talks the meaning of Shakespeare to death. The Shakespearean play in this instance is Richard III, whose lead role Al Pacino, the director and star of this quasi-documentary/quasi-reworking of the play, has performed several times. Pacino, apparently worried that Shakespeare's pertinence in popular culture was misunderstood, took it upon himself to make this movie intending to bring the Bard to the masses--to explain Shakespeare's importance. Toward that end, Pacino has made this, the first film he has ever directed, his life's work for the past several years.

Surely that time could have been better spent. The self-congratulatory back-slapping between Pacino and his crew of sycophantic toadies as they discuss the play is not only obvious and awkward, but also essentially condescending. Pacino establishes the "need" for his movie by showing some random interviews with New Yorkers; when none can recite a line of Shakespeare, Pacino assumes they need the proper dressing down to explain the genius of his plays. That's a pretty arrogant assumption, and, in fact, a faulty one. Throughout interviews and conversations with theater greats and a lot of pseudo-intellectual unknowns, Pacino offers what purports to be revealing snippets on Richard III, but genuine, new insight is hard to come by; this is the Cliffs Notes version of Shakespeare, and the idea that anyone needs a basic and disorganized primer like this one is an insult to advanced-placement junior English students everywhere. You won't learn anything more about Shakespeare from watching this movie than you would by taking a good community college course, or even just renting McKellen's Richard III--a rousing, Nazi-influenced study of political terrorism. (Pacino should have realized a good production of Richard III is really all it takes to convey the delectable venality of it.) Looking for Richard made me think about Shakespeare, all right, only I was thinking less of Richard III and more of a well-worn line from Macbeth: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Looking for Richard. Fox Searchlight. Al Pacino, Kevin Conway, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder. Directed by Al Pacino. Now playing.

William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. 20th-Century Fox. Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Pete Postlethwaite, Miriam Margoyles. Written by Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann, from the play by William Shakespeare. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Now playing.

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