"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Al Pacino : Top 5 Performances

 

On Tuesday of this past week (the 25th of April), the great Al Pacino celebrated his 77th birthday. Happy belated birthday, Al.

Pacino enjoying the "Scent of a Woman" on his birthday.

Pacino enjoying the "Scent of a Woman" on his birthday.

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. 

 

4. SERPICO

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!!

©2017

A Most Violent Year : A Review

****WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER REVIEW!!****

A Most Violent Year, written and directed by J.C. Chandor, is a story of corruption amidst the home heating oil business in and around New York City in 1981, one of the most violent years in the city's history. The protagonists for the film are Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), an immigrant who has lived the American dream and built up a home heating oil company, and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), whose father sold Abel the home heating business he now owns, and who also had some shady organized crime connections.

Due to the great talents involved in the making of this film, with J.C. Chandor directing and Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac starring, I was really looking forward to seeing A Most Violent Year. Unfortunately, I was mightily disappointed once I saw it. The main problem with this film is not the acting, or the directing, but rather with the story itself. It is so devoid of any dramatic tension or interest that it feels like the film is perpetually just on the precipice of a dramatic breakthrough or an inciting incident, but that breakthrough or incident never occurs. So we are left just watching things unfold but with no real attachment to the characters or events. The film is dramatically vacant.

Another issue with this film, is that putting 'violent' in the title is so decidedly inaccurate that A Most Violent Year can now be considered one of the most misleading film titles of all time, right alongside The Never Ending Story. The film sets itself up and creates expectations with a title like that. The expectations for viewers are that this is going to be a film about the grittier, darker and nastier aspects of life in the home heating oil business in New York. That expectation is never met, not even in the sense of having Abel avoid the inferno of violence that blazes around him. There isn't really any violence at all, at least not of substance, not to or from Abel or anyone else. There isn't even the true threat of violence, only the possibility of an unspoken threat of a threat of violence.  I am certainly not someone who needs violence and brutality in a film to like it, but what I do need is some drama to drive the story, and violence as a dramatic vehicle was desperately needed here.

In terms of moral decisions and dramatic tension, at the end of the day, Abel is corrupt enough to use illegal money that Anna stole in order to continue his business, but not corrupt enough to use violence. That isn't exactly the most powerful of dramatic choices for a film, nor is it very insightful or informative in terms of giving the film a distinct perspective. This film feels like it is shot just out of range of a much more interesting and better film…like a Goodfellas for example. The film will inevitably, and unfavorably, be compared with Goodfellas. Goodfellas is set in the same time period, has a similar theme, style and relationships, but with a much more interesting story, and oddly enough, is inhabited by more believable people.  A Most Violent Year has compelling actors, and potentially compelling characters, but those characters aren't put into any situations that are remotely compelling.

In terms of the acting, Jessica Chastain is as good an actress as there is on the planet, and her work here is engaging and as always, of high quality, so much so that you ache for the film to be more about her than anyone else. Chastain brings with her a luminosity that radiates through her every moment on screen, as well as a vivid yet subtle skill and craft. The character of Anna seems to be the only character in the entire film who has any 'balls' whatsoever, whether she has to kill a deer or take care of business, she brings a very specific point of view, and makes sure the job gets done. Chastain's Anna is a driving and powerful force to be reckoned with, much like the actress herself and her substantial gifts.  

Oscar Isaac as Abel, doesn't fair quite as well as his co-star. I think one of the major problems with Isaac's performance is not with his obvious talent, but with the script itself. The character of Abel is sort of sold to us as being like Michael Corleone before he gets involved in the family business in The Godfather (Abel even wears a long camel hair coat reminiscent of the one Michael Corleone wears in The Godfather ). But that sort of internal conflict needs a big moment in order for a transformation to take place. A Most Violent Year lacks that dramatic transformation of Abel, he never chooses what life he will live. In order for a true dramatic transformation to occur, the stakes for Abel need to be much higher. It should have been very clear, either choose violence and maintain your business, family and standing in the world, or choose to be a good man and lose everything you worked so hard to get, including your wife and kids. That choice is never clearly proposed in the film and so we get middle of the road choices and lukewarm storytelling. The other thing that The Godfather's Michael Corleone had going for him was that Al Pacino was playing him. Oscar Isaac is a fine actor, but he is not even in the ballpark of an all-time great like Al Pacino. My one thought about Oscar Isaac as an actor, is that I think he isn't quite ready to carry a film like this just yet. That is not to say that he won't be able to at some point, just that he isn't able to do that now. He lacks a certain charisma and power on screen that a role like this demands. He, unlike Chastain (and Pacino), does not have an incandescent inferno raging within him that illuminates his being. He is certainly a very talented guy, no question, but he has an absence of gravitas, which is what a role like Abel so desperately needs. I have no doubt he has many great performances ahead of him, but this is one that was more considerable than he was able to manage at this point in his career. 

In conclusion, A Most Violent Year is a major disappointment, especially considering how much I loved J.C. Chandor's previous two films, All is Lost and and Margin Call. Obviously, I am a huge fan of Chastain's work and thought Isaac was very good in Inside Llewyn Davis. Sadly, in A Most Violent Year, these tremendously gifted pieces didn't come together to make a great, or even good film. With all of that said though, I would classify this film as a noble failure. Noble in that it attempts to be a serious and thoughtful drama, something that is in short supply in cinema these days, and a failure because it needed a much more compelling story and script to take full advantage of the ample talents brought together to make this film.

© 2015

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) , FOXCATCHER , WILD , THE IMITATION GAME , AMERICAN SNIPER , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .