In some ways, it’s become something of a joke. There are certain actors who lose themselves so deeply into a movie role that you lose sight of the actor and see nothing but the character. These are the actors who tend to get the acclaim when it comes to awards season. As a matter of fact, all you really have to do is look at the two strongest contenders in this year’s Academy Awards Best Actor category – Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix – for examples of this. The actor somehow seems to “become” the character in a way that seems almost incredible.
Then there are the other actors. The ones who have become so recognizable for playing a certain type or for something that is so inherently “them” that it’s become impossible for them to really take on any role other than themselves, or at least the onscreen persona they have developed over the years. Again, all one has to do is look at last year’s Lincoln for a perfect example of this. Whereas Day-Lewis seems to become Lincoln to the extent that you have to look for the actor behind the character, Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Thaddeeus Stevens, could be no one but Tomyy Lee Jones. He has become a Type. As in “if you can’t get me Tommy Lee Jones for the role, get me a Tommy Lee Jones Type.”
Other actors who fit this category are people like Nic Cage and Jack Nicholson. When you see their name on a poster or in the credits for a movie, you know precisely what you’re going to get from them. They have become predictable, they have, in a way, lost the ability to surprise us in any role. Oh, sure, there are the occasional exceptions, but for the most part, that’s just the way it is. And in a lot of ways, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Going to see a Nicholson movie can be like putting on a well-worn but beloved pair of shoes. You do it precisely because they’re comfortable and you know they’re going to be without having to think about it.
Which brings us to Al Pacino. There was a time when Pacino still had that ability to surprise, and if you look at some of his early work, it’s obviously there. But after awhile – I’d say most likely after Scarface – Al Pacino became known mostly for playing “Al Pacino”. Again, if you talk to somebody who has seen the latest Al Pacino movie – whatever it might be – and you ask them how Pacino was in the flick, you’re going to get the answer “He was Pacino”.
So what is it that makes Pacino “Pacino”? Well, there are a number of things, I’m sure, little ticks and quirks, a certain way of talking, of carrying himself, that simply cannot be hidden or disguised. But whatever other things might encompass a Pacino role, one thing you can be sure of: at some point, Al’s gonna lose it. He’s gonna start yelling. He’s gonna start cursing. And from there on out HE’S GONNA F#^@*ING BE F#^@*ING AL PACINO AND THERE’S GONNA BE NO F#^@*ING COMING BACK DOWN!!!
And that’s what today’s video is about. In it, Nelson Carvajal has compiled a great sequence of scenes that show exactly those moments in Pacino’s movies where he cranks up the intensity and the volume, and you know that, once again, no matter what the character’s onscreen name may be, you are watching Al Pacino. Here, take a look:
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying these are bad movies or that Pacino is a bad actor. Far from it. I love Pacino, and I almost always enjoy seeing him turn it up. Sure, there are times lately when it’s seemed more like he was “phoning it in”, and there are times when I wish a director would try to get something more from him, that he would surprise us with something new and different, but at the same time, like that well-worn pair of shoes I mentioned earlier, there’s something comforting about knowing what your going to get from a particular actor before you walk into the theater or pop in that DVD or Blu-Ray disk.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m off to watch an Al Pacino flick.
Until next time, Happy Viewing!
- Pacino – Scent of a Woman (empwaynek.wordpress.com)
- HBO releases video tease of Al Pacino as Phil Spector (brooklynvegan.com)