- Over 3 hours of new interviews with Tom Stoppard, Gary Oldman, Richard Dreyfuss, and Tim Roth
- Still gallery
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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
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TWO MINOR CHARACTERS FROM THE PLAY, 'HAMLET' STUMBLE AROUND UNAWARE OF THEIR SCRIPTED LIVES AND UNABLE TO DEVIATE FROM THEM.
Tom Stoppard's modern stage classic finds a pair of film actors worthy of its verbal japery and existential bewilderment: Gary Oldman and Tim Roth are deliciously locked in as the title characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. And yet it remains difficult to tell which one is Rosencrantz and which Guildenstern--even they seem unsure--a clever part of Stoppard's ingenious design. Focusing on a pair of unremarkable characters from Hamlet, Stoppard sees the great play from their confused perspective. Now and again the action of Hamlet sweeps them up, but most of the time R&G are left wondering where they are, what they have been sent for, and why they can't remember anything that happened before the beginning of the play. Richard Dreyfuss (fittingly grandiloquent) is the Player King, who seems to know more about the ominous workings of fiction and tragedy than the heroes do. Stoppard's first outing as a film director is handsomely shot but uncertainly paced--although any time Oldman and Roth go into one of their tennis-match debates on probability, identity, or death, the movie crackles. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may be the "indifferent children of the earth," but for this brief moment they deserve center stage. --Robert Horton
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Gary Oldman and Tim Roth are perfect as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Hamlet who question the nature of reality, leading Stoppard to imagine them as two souls who can't remember exactly who they are and who can't see the obvious in front of their eyes. As Tim Roth observes, "there are alternatives but not choice". Even with the excellent performances of Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfus steals the show as the player. Donald Sumpter, Joanna Miles, Ian Richardson give strong performances in their roles. I initially hated Iain Glen's performance as Hamlet. I still see it as a weak point in the film but have come to appreciate it.
Among the strengths of the play and film is that the commentary of the Player applies to Shakespeare in general as well as the play that all the characters are trapped in. The humor and word play Stoppard writes mirrors the humorous elements of Shakespeare's writing that are often lost in the archaic language of the time. Gary Oldman also delivers a variation on Hamlets famous "to be or, not to be" speech that is profound and haunting. This speech is one of the best I have ever heard or read.
I consider the Hangover one of the funniest comedies ever. This comedy is the opposite. The Hangover overwhelms with sheer crude audacity, but very good writing. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead weaves a subtle joke with remarkable wisdom that doesn't jump out and knock the viewer over. It is an elegant film that becomes increasingly humorous and satisfying over years. Like wine it is an acquired taste with complex flavors. An appreciation for Shakespeare and theatre is helpful. This is not a film for everyone. It is a precious gift for some. I am grateful that the admiration of my favorite professor was enough for me to consider it beyond my first viewing.
The biggest single plus for the film is that it does not only tell the backstory of two minor characters in "Hamlet", played marvelously played by Gary Oldman as Rosenkrantz and Tim Roth as Guildenstern. It also tells a lot about the backstory of the troupe of traveling "tragedians", the company commissioned to put on the play which Hamlet hopes will wake the conscience of the king. This supplies the third lead character, "The Lead Player" played by Richard Dreyfuss.
When either Dreyfuss or other Hamlet scenes are on the screen, everything seems about right. There are even some of Hamlet's more famous scenes played out, with Shakespeare's words. But when the two title characters are along, a sense of deep unreality sets in. For example, at the very beginning of the film, there is a conceit where Rosenkrantz finds a coin in the road and starts flipping it over and over, and it continually comes up heads. Guildenstern bets against that several times, and loses every time, until they reach a count of over 100 heads. Something about their world has become unstuck. It is to this play what the appearance of the specter is in "Hamlet". Something is not right in their world. It's the kind of unreality we sense in Peter Greenaway's films, especially because the visual plays such an important part. Contrary to Roger Ebert, there are visual clues which would be missed on the stage.
Over half of the movie rests on the shoulders of the name leads, and for an audience who is used to seeing Oldman as the perfect villain or Tim Roth as the small time robber "Pumpkin" in "Pulp Fiction", these roles really show a new side of their talent. Roth has the same English accent as "Pumpkin", but Oldman is in an entirely new place. I could hardly take my eyes off him. They are innocents in a chaotic world which is destined to crumble around them.
Since so much depends on the dialogue between the two, some professional reviewers have said the play was unsuitable for the screen. I would counter that what the camera gives us is close-ups of the faces, especially of Oldman and Roth, and captures the most subtle expressions, which would have been missed from the mezzanine of a large theatre.
Let's be fair. This movie asks a lot of its viewers, in addition to the need to see Hamlet. It is not for everyone. But, for those who really like subtlety and a unique kind of mystery, this is for you.
Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Richard Dreyfuss all were in command of their very wordy characters. The two, obscure main characters from Hamlet, adrift in a complex plot with no backstory, never did quite latch on to which was Rosencranz and who was Guildenstern. This produced a fair amount of comedy. An enjoyable film, but if the plotline of Hamlet is foggy, read/watch/CliffNotes it before watching this. You'll enjoy it more fully.