NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage: Film Review

Jeremy Whelehan/Abramorama
More hagiographic than enlightening, this doc will mainly be of interest to Kevin Spacey fans and hard-core theater buffs.

Jeremy Whelehan's documentary chronicles the world tour of a production of "Richard III," starring Kevin Spacey.

The documentary NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage, chronicling the highly successful world tour of a production of Richard III, which stars Kevin Spacey, could well establish a new drinking game. Pour a shot every time the words “journey,” “family” and “the magic of theater” are mentioned and you’ll find yourself inebriated by the end. The film received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is opening theatrically on May 2.

Its title inspired by Richard’s “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech, the film represents a coda of sorts to the highly ambitious Bridge Project, a collaboration among London’s Old Vic, NYC’s Brooklyn Academy of Music and Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Productions that brought new productions of classic works -- mostly by Shakespeare and featuring casts equally composed of American and British actors -- to audiences around the world. This documentary, directed by Jeremy Whelehan, concentrates on the company’s final production in which the two-time Oscar-winning actor played the title role.

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It thus provides a behind-the-scenes look at the show’s extensive tour, which brought it to theaters In Epidaurus, Doha, Beijing, Istanbul, Sydney, Naples and San Francisco, chronicling the production from its rehearsals in London to its concluding performance in Brooklyn.

Unfortunately, this film is a largely superficial exercise that most closely resembles the sort of promotional extra found on DVDs. Lacking the depth and context that made Al Pacino’s similar documentary Looking for Richard so fascinating, it’s a mostly hagiographic affair that, while it may be of interest to theater buffs and Spacey fans, feels like a missed opportunity.

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Although it delves into some interesting areas -- such as the lingering perception that British actors are more adept at performing the Bard’s plays than Americans -- it more often feels like a home movie travelogue. Extensive screen time is devoted to scenes of the actors sightseeing in the various exotic locations in which they found themselves: driving across the Doha desert; walking across the Great Wall of China; and enjoying a luxury boat ride off the Naples coastline paid for by Spacey. Not surprisingly, the copious interviews include many paeans to the actor’s talent and generosity.

More interestingly, the film delves into the attributes of the very different theaters in which the production was performed, from the ancient Greek amphitheater in which Julius Caesar once watched plays and which features acoustics in which un-miced actors can heard even from the farthest reaches to the ultra-modern venues in such cash-rich cities as Beijing and Doha.

Spacey, as always, is an engaging and articulate presence, and his astute observations about playing the most demanding role in Shakespeare’s canon are well worth hearing. But this film, in which the interview subjects constantly utter the aforementioned platitudes, comes as a disappointment considering the incredible ambition of the theatrical venture that is its subject matter.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spacey)

Production: Treetops

Director/producer: Jeremy Whelehan

Executive producer: Kevin Spacey

Director of photography: Aadel Nodeh-Farahani

Editor: Will Znidaric

Composer: David M. Saunders

Not rated, 93 minutes

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