Review for Rosencratz and Guildernstern Are Dead
Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead is a fantastic look at something from a different point of view. These minor (some might say, insignificant) characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet are given this whole back story which runs along the original play and if you have seen a version of that then a lot of this will make more sense. On their travels the two characters ponder the theory of probability by flipping a coin, encounter a band of travelling actors multiple times as well as Hamlet and a number of other characters from the play. This is all entwined with a nonsensical plot where nothing really happens.
I absolutely love Stoppard's play and though many say that it is just a remake/rehash of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, I feel that the play sits on its own as a great absurd play in which nothing happens. Before Seinfeld could lay that claim we had this wonderful story of these two characters debating flipping a coin, asking each other questions like they are playing tennis and at times forgetting which one of the characters they actually are.
Performances by Tim Roth and Gary Oldman as Rosencratz and Guildenstern are fantastic and I am not sure whether they actually played it in the theatre, but they feel so comfortable with these roles that it is strange to imagine anyone else playing them. Though this was not their first film roles, it would be a number of years before Roth got his real break in Reservoir Dogs and it despite his amazing performance in Sid and Nancy, it wasn't until his roles in JFK and Dracula that Oldman became a star.
Supporting cast is fine though I always thought that Stoppard should have struck a deal with Franco Zeffirelli, who was filming Hamlet at the same time to have the two casts come together which is something that many theatrical productions have done in the past. The 'Hamlet' cast is fine with Donald Sumpter and Ian Richardson great as Claudius and Polonius. I do however feel that Iain Glen's Hamlet left a lot to be desired and really did overdo to madness a little too much.
Richard Dreyfuss is simply wonderful as the leader of the Players and this is not surprising. I found watching him a joy and often wondered why Stoppard never did a sequel following up on their exploits throughout the lands as his character was not the one dimensional 'pay to play' actor that many productions of Hamlet imply.
The film is wonderfully shot with perfect costumes, music and editing. At nearly two hours I would say it may be a little too long, but thankfully because of the infectious nature of the work it doesn't feel like it is nearly two hours and there are moments when I wish scenes would carry on for longer. The whole questioning scene is played so wonderfully that I could happily watch that go on forever.
The two disks includes a multiude of interviews. From 2004 there is a number of interviews with Michael Brandman and these feel more like In The Actor's Studio, not so much focusing on the play or film (though it is a returning point), but on the careers of people involved.
There are three separate interviews with main people from the cast. An hour with Gary Oldman , over thirty minutes with Tim Roth and over fourty-five with Richard Dreyfuss. These are all great and though I do wish that they had been segmented (though they are chaptered every five-ten minutes) just so that you know what they are talking about at certain times. As I said, many are simply just discussing the movie and play, but also looking at their career at the time of filming, beforehand and since.
Almost an hour of an interview with Tom Stoppard which is fascinating and if you are studying his work or the play it will be gold dust. He is also interviewed a second time in 2015 which is great, though it does feel like retreading the same stories and information. I would have preferred maybe a look from other people about the significance of the work as theatre/film and so on.
Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one of the greatest examples of how to play a twist on an old story and make it fresh. If you are familar with Hamlet you will enjoy the snippets that appear throughout and if not you will still enjoy the wonderful wordplay and interplay between the two characters.