On Tuesday of this past week (the 25th of April), the great Al Pacino celebrated his 77th birthday. Happy belated birthday, Al.
A reader, the Minnesota Kid, sent me a story about Pacino that showed him galavanting on a beach somewhere on his birthday with a bikini clad vixen forty years his junior. Apparently Pacino has fully embraced the lecherous old man stage of his life…good for him.
Since I missed Pacino's actual birthday, I thought I'd share with you, my gentle readers, my opinion on his five best performances of his career. Pacino is one of the all-time greats. His run of success in the 1970's was staggering from an actor's point of view. I greatly admire Pacino, he is an old-school, Actors Studio kind of actor. His commitment to craft and his dedication to his life's calling knows no bounds. I recommend any aspiring actors to watch Pacino at his best and notice what he does with his hands in particular. Pacino is great at telling a story and creating a character with his hands.
Sadly, Pacino has become a bit of a punch line in the latter part of his career with some derivative work that borders on self parody, but that shouldn't over shadow the stellar work he churned out in his wondrous earlier years.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy my list of Pacino's best performances!!
5. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
Pacino had a hell of a year in 1992, winning his first and only Best Actor Oscar for his work in Scent of a Woman, and being nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in Glengarry Glen Ross. Pacino's work in Scent of a Woman is much too showy for my liking. The whiff of performance hangs in the air during even scene he chews his way through. In contrast, Pacino's work as salesman extraordinaire Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross is a subtle masterpiece. Pacino wraps Roma in the blustery confidence of the hustling salesman, you can smell the cologne that encases him. Pacino alters his center of gravity with Roma, making him a somewhat top-heavy, chest-out type of character, who, like a predator, is always scanning the horizon for the weakest animal to separate from the herd. Pacino did not win an Oscar for his work as Ricky Roma, but he really should have.
In 1972, '73, '74 and '75, Al Pacino was at the height of his creative powers. His work as truth-telling cop Frank Serpico in the 1973, Sidney Lumet directed film Serpico, is a testament to the creative roll Pacino was on back then. Serpico is a complicated character with a sense of honor, duty and loyalty, but he must grapple with whom or what he is loyal…is it to his fellow cops, or to the truth? Serpico chooses the truth, and it nearly costs him everything. Pacino once again uses his body to convey the heavy weight that bears down on Frank Serpico. As the film rolls on Serpico becomes more and more compressed in a permanent slouch, the cross of Truth he is bearing weighing down on him. Pacino was nominated, but did not win, the Best Actor Oscar for Serpico, but he was certainly worthy of that award.
3. DOG DAY AFTERNOON
1975's Dog Day Afternoon paired Paicno with director Sidney Lumet once again to spectacular results. Pacino plays Sonny, a "gay" man who attempts to rob a bank in Brooklyn in the early 70's. Pacino's Sonny is as complex and complicated a character imaginable. Watching the pressure of the situation bear down on Sonny is a remarkable character study. Once again, Pacino uses his physicality to bring Sonny to life, he puts his center of gravity lower on his body, in his pelvic region, and lets that lead the way. Pacino's Sonny is desperate for validation, love and escape. He feeds off of the acceptance of others, whether they be his hostages in the bank or the crowd that gathers outside to egg him on. Watching Sonny chant "Attica, Attica, Attica!!" to the assembled crowd is one of the great iconic moments in cinema history.
2. DONNIE BRASCO
1997's Donnie Brasco is one of Pacino's most underrated performances. Pacino is nothing short of brilliant as the down on his luck gangster Lefty Ruggiero. Pacino imbues Lefty with palpable desperation that seeps out of his every pore. This is, in many ways, Pacino's most profound and intimate performance of his remarkable career. Scandalously, Pacino was not nominated for an Oscar for his staggering display of genius in Donnie Brasco.
1. THE GODFATHER I & II
It is impossible to overstate the masterpiece that is Al Pacino's work in the first two Godfather movies. Michael Corleone is one of the all-time, iconic film characters in cinematic history. That doesn't happen without the masterful work of Al Pacino. Pacino's transformation from the "good" son to the stone cold killer to the Don himself, is staggering. Pacino gives Michael a vivid and pulsating inner life that he occasionally let's pop out into the world, in explosive moments of rage at his wife Kay or his brother Tom. But even more chilling is when Michael focuses all of that power and force into a calm, collected glare. Pacino's brilliance is in making Michael Corleone a container for all of our darker ambitions while never making him into an obvious monster. Pacino's work as Michael Corleone isn't just his greatest performance, it is one of the greatest performances of all time.
Happy belated birthday, Al!! I tip my cap to you for your lifetime of transcendent work!! Keep on frolicking until you can frolic no more!!