Image / 84 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: May 7, 2013
The star-maker machine is still running on all cylinders, but actors like John Barrymore aren’t around anymore. Bigger-than-life and consumed by a vaudevillian desire to entertain, as presented in this Barrymore film, our protagonist is a roaring reminder of an age now gathering dust on the shelf. Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer brings the man to life with gravitas and lived-in warmth, but his Barrymore is a man who knows innately that the curtain is about to fall on his way of life.
Ostensibly a one man show captured by high-def cameras (technically, there’s one other cast member, but it’s fair to call this the Plummer show through and through), Barrymore chronicles the legendary performer as he sits in an empty theatre preparing a new adaptation of Richard III. Well, readying the new show isn’t quite as important as telling stories about the good old days and swilling back hooch, but John’s doing all this for a grand reason, I suppose.
Barrymore as a cinematic experience isn’t profoundly exciting or particularly engaging, though it goes without saying that Plummer is in fine form as our ringleader. He truly is the perfect recognizable name to headline a picture like this, and he utilizes his natural talents to both infuse his source material with vividness and unleash his own unique signature on the part. Barrymore as a standalone film may been only pretty good, but Plummer’s take on the legend is triumphant.