50/50 Review #22: Richard III.

It crossed my mind while watching Much Ado About Nothing last week that it might be of benefit to have read and/or at least know the plays before having seen these films. But by the time that one finished, I found that theory wasn't necessarily true. Now I'm beginning to rethink that conclusion. Altered to 1930s England, this particular story follows Richard (Ian McKellen), a man who wants to be king, so he has to kill everybody who stands in his way. At least, I think that's what it's about. The film also stars Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., John Wood, Maggie Smith, Dominic West, and a thousand other people.

If you haven't inferred my main issue with the film yet, it's that I had no effing clue what was going on. And it wasn't a language issue, either. I actually understood pretty much everything. But for some reason, I couldn't follow the movie at all. I got the idea that Richard wanted to be king and had to get rid of his brothers and whoever else would ascend the throne before him... but that's it. I grasped the basic idea, but absolutely nothing else that was happening. I even tried to read the plot summary of the play on wikipedia, hoping that would give me an easier understanding in the most basic way possible. But no. For some reason, I found that just as confusing and hard to follow. Part of it had to do with the fact I couldn't figure out the characters, what their relation to each other was, what their individual motivations were, and what they were doing during any scene. And due to all of this, I had difficulty grasping the point of updating the setting to 1930s England (I eventually understood the Nazi symbolism, but that's about it). And the more I didn't get about everything, the more frustrated I became. And the more frustrated I became, the more I just didn't care.

The acting is solid, however. Also, the overall filmmaking is rather solid. My favorite aspect--something Rachel might have thought when suggesting this--was the breaking the fourth wall aspect. Richard talks directly to the camera throughout the movie, recalling the method of asides in plays when the characters remove themselves from the setting and speak directly to the audience. And since that goes into meta territory, I'm inclined to like it automatically. But on the whole, the acting, style, and meta qualities were really the only things I liked about it.

In the end, I just kept asking myself "What's the point?" That's the real question I wanted answered. I didn't follow the story because I couldn't grasp the point of whatever scene I was watching at any given moment. I didn't know how each individual scene played into the overarching narrative, what its point was in the grande scheme (except for the initial killing scenes, of course... later killings went back to the "I don't follow" category). And because of this, I feel having studied or known the story prior to seeing this film would have made it a much better viewing. By and large, I'm not blaming the film for my dislike, but rather my lack of prior knowledge (though to be fair, shouldn't a film be able to stand alone without needing said prior knowledge?). Or maybe I'm just a dumbass.

The Zed Word

(P.S. This is NOT a rating on the quality of the film; rather, it's just a rating on the level of enjoyment.)


  1. Maybe you need to see "Richard 1" and "Richard 2" to understand it?

  2. I think you summed it up nicely in that last sentence.

    KIDDING! I'm curious how you had so much trouble understanding what was going on. It's been awhile, but I remember it being rather easy to follow.

    It's one of my favorite Shakespeare adaptations, as it was one of the first I saw (outside of Luhrman's R+J) that showed the timeless quality of the stories. My professor showed it to us before reading the play, and it enhanced the reading so much more.

    I won't say "read the play and watch it again" but I do think you're missing out. Besides I could never trust the word of someone who gave all my BR points to a Star Wars virgin ;) <---Just kidding Stevee, if you read this.

    1. I don't know. Maybe it WAS the language. Though I think we're just gonna have to think separately on this one. Even if I followed it completely, I'm not sure I would have loved it anyway. What I tend to like from Shakespeare are all the puns and wit and comical/biting smack-talk, and while that showed up here and there, it didn't seem to be as prevalent here.

    2. It may be as simple as this: "Richard III" is one of Shakespeare's histories, so you're looking for a bigger plot/character arc that doesn't really exist -- much like in "Julius Caesar," a play set during a specific period in history that boils down to a series of "and then... and then... and then."

      I'm not well-versed in this play, but my understanding is that it's essentially a character piece about a royal with a hunched back and a monstrous chip on his shoulder. Shakespeare's audience would have been very familiar with the story of Richard III, which might also account for the sparseness of exposition. 'Course, that wouldn't excuse the film.

      Apparently, the "baddie breaks the 4th wall" thing worked out really well back in the day, too, cuz Shakespeare would use the device again in "Othello."


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