Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Buddy Film, Tragi-comedy  |   Release Date - Feb 8, 1991 (USA)  |   Run Time - 118 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Scott Engel

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is Tom Stoppard's film adaptation of his 1968 Tony Award-winning play of the same name. Stoppard has long been a respected name in the theater (he was knighted for his work in 1997), but he is probably best known to film audiences for Shakespeare in Love, a film which earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Like that film, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead takes Shakespeare and turns him on his head, but the script has more in common with Samuel Beckett and the absurdist tradition that with the Bard. That having been said, the overall plot of this laugh-out-loud film is almost secondary to the character's relationships with each other and the events around them. Gary Oldman plays the dim Rosencrantz and Tim Roth is the gentle Guildenstern (or is it the other way around?): two characters displaced from the play Hamlet who have no idea who they are or why they were sent for. Trying to watch them figure it out is the hysterical joke that the film spins around. Oldman and Roth are extremely deft with the difficult dialogue as they literally volley in a game of verbal tennis. Richard Dreyfuss has a more grounded role but is equally fun. As the Player, he tries to clue the heroes in to their destiny while at the same time pushing them toward it. Ultimately, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reach their pre-written demise off-stage, true to the tragic play from which they tried to escape. Even if you only have a passing knowledge of Shakespeare's work, the script stands on its own as a humorous study of fiction versus reality.