Research studies about how people tend to look like their dogs are old news. But the field is wide open for a scientific paper about how each entry in the current crop of movies made by actors resembles the on-screen persona of its first-time director. Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! is as smoothly winning as he is. Infinity, about the late Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman, displays the same soft-focus earnestness as its star-director, Matthew Broderick. Steve Buscemi imbues Trees Lounge with a Buscemic slacker kick. And Looking for Richard, an inventive, funny, garrulous examination/performance of Shakespeare’s King Richard the Third, all but vibrates with the energy of its brash creator, Al Pacino. The result is a neat, artistic high-wire act — and, as the Bard might have writ, a real kick/In the pants.
It’s a daring thing Pacino seeks to do: Explicate the power and importance of studying Shakespeare in general, and Richard III in particular, for an American moviegoing audience more used to quoting ”Hasta la vista, baby” than ”A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Even more cheekily, Pacino plops himself down at the heart of the story in a triple role: as the character of Al Pacino the actor, who wants to make a movie of the play; as Pacino the director, who’s trying to get a movie made; and as Pacino the intellectual popularizer, who’s trying to promote his subject.
Working with his resourceful and patient collaborator, Frederic Kimball (who cowrote the narration), the actor yaks and prowls as he gnaws at the meat of the play and the meaning of the character, pushing his colleagues, hamming it up, and striding with actorly self-regard in his role as auteur. With his disheveled hair matted under a backward Scent of a Woman baseball cap, his beard stubble in a changing but constant state of ”can’t be bothered,” and his dark eyes observing closely from behind an impressive procession of chic eyeglasses, Pacino looks the parts. And with his considerable clout, he rallies some great fellow actors and deft moviemakers to participate. (In addition to Kimball, credit goes to coproducer Michael Hadge and, in particular, to cinematographer Robert Leacock.)
Pacino conducts interviews (his guest commentators include John Gielgud, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, Kevin Kline, and Derek Jacobi). He grandstands. (”Who’s going to say ‘Action!’?” he wonders out loud.) He rehearses with a high-powered cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Estelle Parsons, Winona Ryder, and Penelope Allen. He makes Looking for Richard look rough and thrown together (the opposite of Ian McKellen’s 1995 Richard III), when in fact it’s as cannily constructed as an Al Pacino performance. A-