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CAREER RETROSPECTIVE: THE AL PACINO FILMOGRAPHY

THE ELITE:
In a career teeming with brilliant work, these are Al Pacino's greatest films.

The Godfather: This is where the legacy begins, both of the greatest one-two punch in film history and Pacino's stellar career. Pacino first plays the highly moral idealist Michael sheepishly, until he subtly morphs into a cold-blooded gangster right before your eyes. It is the most amazing transformation ever portrayed in the cinema; made all the more powerful because you barely register it happening. A+

The Godfather Part II: Pacino takes Michael to the farthest reaches of icy ambivalence. Dark, brooding and hardly creating a move or a sound that isn't carefully calculated, his continuation of Michael stands as one of the most chilling portrayals of a man's descent into evil. A+

Dog Day Afternoon: This is as honest as a film performance gets. No other performance feels so true to reality, so lived-in and effortless than Pacino's work as Sonny, a down on his luck Vietnam vet who fumbles through a bank heist and becomes an unwitting celebrity and cult hero in the process. Pacino also manages to bring out sly moments of humor in the role, which lesser actors might not have been wise enough to mine. A+

Heat: In the movie-land of cops and robbers, this one reigns supreme. Pacino plays perfect fiery counter-point to De Niro's streamlined, efficient, yet highly emotional performance. At first, you may be taken aback by Pacino's ferocity and shudder it off as showboating. But hidden deep beneath the surface, there are a multitude of subtleties that make the character uniquely (and realistically) alive. A+

Scarface: Realism takes a back door with Tony Montana, and that's the point. Pacino creates a walking, cursing, snorting id. Never afraid to go over the top, Pacino's operatic instinct melds perfectly with director Brian De Palma's vision. What is often underappreciated in the film is Pacino's comedic sense of the character, particularly in his interplay with Manny, played by Steven Bauer. Clearly, this is one of a handful of Pacino's "outside-in" creations, and one of his most vivid. A

Donnie Brasco: Critics who claim that Pacino is no longer capable of a naturalistic performance since his performance in "Scent of a Woman" should check out this haunting classic, where Pacino once again tackles the gangster genre that made him famous. And, just like his work in "The Godfather", he's given it Shakespearean dimensions. Imagine Willy Loman as a wannabe Michael Corleone. The role also calls attention to Pacino's enormously expressive physicality, where his slumped body language can express a mountain of defeat far greater than the thickest passages of text. This was one of cinema's finest performances, in a genre everyone believed Pacino had already exhausted. A

Glengarry Glen Ross: Translating his enormous passion for the theatre into the realm of film, Pacino's work in David Mamet's pressure cooker of a play benefits enormously from Jamie Foley's inventive, yet unobtrusive direction. Pacino is the ace slickster in this highly esteemed group of actors, Jack Lemmon most notable among them. He exudes a cool confidence and authority as a master salesman with no morals or compunction and shows how he can deliver a well-written monologue better than any actor alive. A

The Insider: One already had evidence that Michael Mann could draw powerful work from Pacino ("Heat"), but who would have thought that the role of '60 Minutes' producer and newsman Lowell Bergman would be one of Pacino's sturdiest, most invigorating performances? Pacino is perfectly paired with an exceptional Russell Crowe; their unlikely alliance in the film brings out the best in both. Pacino is never showy, but carries a depth and a range of emotion that infuses his character with an engrossing, flesh and blood vitality. Just watch his face slacken the moment he is betrayed by his co-worker Mike Wallace and learn a masterful lesson in performance minimalism. A

CLASSIC PERFORMANCES:
Terrific films, though not entirely defining. Pacino delivers powerfully in each.

Scarecrow: A forgotten classic – a film that paired Pacino with his favorite actor, Gene Hackman, for the first and last time. The 1973 Jerry Schatzberg-directed tale of two bums who form an unlikely friendship won the top prize at that year's Cannes Film Festival, as did Pacino for his portrayal of Lion, a true innocent who suffers through so much degradation that he eventually becomes a catatonic. Pacino's early comic instincts are evident in the performance, though, as is his ability to lead a performance with his heart. B+

Serpico: As the ostracized whistle-blowing cop Frank Serpico, Pacino effortlessly portrays a laid back man of peace who is systematically dismantled to a frenzied paranoia. While Pacino's performance is stunningly vivid, the film itself is standard fare, albeit exceptionally executed. B+

Frankie and Johnny: This whimsical romance reunited Pacino with his "Scarface" co-star Michelle Pfeiffer. Under Garry Marshalls' freestyle direction, Pacino delights as a short order cook with a second chance at life and love. This is one of Pacino's breeziest, most relaxed performances. He is funny, infectiously playful and carries the love story forward with the trademark intensity of his eyes. The film is light fare, but doesn't betray his estimable gifts. B+

Looking for Richard: Delightful documentary/narrative hybrid that explains the appeal and skepticism towards the works of Shakespeare as it applies to "Richard III". You get the see the real Pacino here -- as he relates to the man on the street and how he steers his way through interpreting a role. This project was a labor of love for him, he directed the film and cast his closest actor friends (Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin) to assist him. You're surprised by how he seems genuinely goofy he is, yet completely and astutely committed to uncovering the truth in his work. For Pacino, it's all about creative exploration. This film gives you an inside view of that process better than any ever produced. B+

Insomnia: A physical, psychological wonder of a performance. It isn't just the exterior effects that marvel you, but the interior life they inspire. Pacino stars as Will Dormer, a sleepless detective assigned to a new murder case while experiencing a deeply affecting moral decay. No one plays a tortured man on the edge, or an obsessive cop, like Pacino -- "Insomnia" offers Pacino new challenges, though, and fits him like a glove. As jokey as it sounds, what is perhaps most amazing about the performance, from a technical standpoint, is how Pacino is able to play absolute exhaustion without making the audience groggy. Perhaps it's because he's working with a young visionary director (Christopher Nolan) that his performance feels completely fresh with a wide-awake awareness. B+

Angels in America: As bold and as brave as the play on which it is based, Mike Nichol's AIDS-themed opus features a first rate cast that pits Pacino against Jeffrey Wright and Meryl Streep. Pacino plays the iconic role of Roy Cohn, a deeply bitter and veangeful man with loads of political power who finds himself dying of the newly discovered wasting disease. Again, he is armed with the smashing dialogue no one can deliver better and he seems energized to finally collaborate with an actor and a director he has long admired. Early in the film, Pacino delivers one of his greatest pieces of scenework with James Cromwell playing the doctor who gives him his grim prognosis. Like the very best of Pacino's acting, you can read the unspoken emotional beats throughout their exchange. B+

The Merchant of Venice: Above all things, Pacino is an actor that relishes words and the classic works of the theatre. As Shylock in this stellar version of Shakespeare's controversial masterpiece, Pacino distinguishes himself from his co-stars (Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes) as the most experimental, audacious and utterly comfortable with the difficult text. Infusing his role with equal measures of defiance and defeat, this performance often echoes his own in "Donnie Brasco". Heartbreaking work. B+

Sea of Love: After "Revolution" flopped in 1985, Pacino took a hiatus from commercial filmmaking to clear his head and get back in touch with the purity of his creative passions. While the film that marked his return isn't as impressive as one might have wished, it still ranks as one of his most entertaining. Although the film wasn't a masterpiece by any standard, it wad clear that Pacino was back in a big way. His enthusiasm could barely be contained (watch the closing scene where he follows Ellen Barkin down a bustling New York City street) and he made yet another cop character fresh by playing up the seen-it-all weariness, the sexed-up longing and the sense of fury and danger that dictate his success as a detective. B

The Godfather Part III: A disappointing end to a landmark series of films. While this third chapter is completely respectable, it pales in comparison to the greatness that preceded it. Pacino had conflicts with Coppola concerning the direction of the character (would Michael really be so concerned with redemption?) but serves the narrative proudly with a strong, distinctive performance from start to finish. It's difficult to decipher that this is the same Michael Corleone from 15 years earlier, but it all holds together spectacularly if you view it as Pacino's take on King Lear. B

Dick Tracy: Another fun Pacino performance. As Dick Tracy's nemesis Big Boy Caprice, Pacino wanted to explore what acting behind a mask would do for him. It seems to have freed him up to take everything farther. He makes it as animated as the comic he's based on. The approach to the film itself is a risk, so having a high-wire actor like Pacino as it's main villian makes perfect sense. Ultimately, it fails to garner much excitement, but it would have suffered a resounding thud of boredom without Pacino's contributions. B

Carlito's Way: Pacino's reteam with De Palma for another gangster pic doesn't quite reach "Scarface" heights, but its aims are much closer to the ground, anyway. The plot is terribly predictable (ex-con released from jail vows to go straight in spite of external forces working their bad mojo on him) but De Palma's inventive direction makes it sing. Pacino plays Carlito perhaps a bit too decently to justify such a sordid past, but his performance here is most notable for the way he allows his eyes to do much of the work for him. This is a surprisingly strong "action" star performance; the fact that you can read every thought in those eyes is almost as impressive as his tightly coiled physical expressiveness. B

Devil's Advocate: A hammy spectacle, but how else would you play the Devil? Pacino lets it all hang out and every key scene in which he appears is sprinkled with surprising invention. Would it be possible to end your film in a 15 -minute monologue using any other actor? He even manages to raise Keanu Reeves' game. It's often too jokey to take seriously, but Pacino manages to bestow the film with both levity and weight. B

Scent of a Woman: After nine consecutive losses, Pacino finally nailed the Academy Award for his performance as Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, an embittered blind war veteran who takes his unwitting caretaker on a weekend trip that will end in his suicide. If it wasn't for the inherent sentimentality of the piece, audiences would certainly be turned off by Pacino's abrasive nature in the role, but it is a tribute to his principles that he refused to soften the edges. The film itself is too sluggish and lengthy, but Pacino adds a flashy, colorful heartbeat to the proceedings that convince you that the film is a lot more worthy than it actually is. B-

HO-HUM TO TERRIBLE:
Pacino fails to connect in these mediocre films.

…And Justice For All: This run-of-the-mill David and Goliath tale set in the court system suffers from a few too many melodramatic subplots. Pacino finds the moral conflict and decency in his character, playing a troubled young attorney who faces a crisis of conscience while defending a sadistic rapist. His closing courtroom rant is a bona fide classic, but it's his earlier scenes with Lee Strausberg and Christine Lahti that show a tender side he had previously hidden. C

The Recruit: Fairly unexceptional, by the book spy film whose only point of interest is watching Pacino interact with co-star Colin Farrell. No one embarasses themselves in the film, because the picture's only aim is to keep you entertained just enough -- it never raises the stakes. Perhaps Pacino chose the project because he wanted to explore a duplicitous character, but the end result isn't worthy of him. C

Two Bits: A nostalgia-fest that allows Pacino to pay tribute to the grandfather who meant so much to him, Jamie Foley's film empathizes so greatly to its lead character, a young boy from a poor, single parent and grandparent Depression era family, that it suffers from the same sense of aimlessness. Pacino is relugated to sitting in the backyard telling tall tales to his young grandson. His performance is technically immaculate, but sorely missing his vigor. It would have been nice if he could have found a way to portray someone who felt more alive even when approaching death. C

S1m0ne: It's easy to see why Pacino might have been intrigued by the prospect of starring in this sci-fi/comedy hybrid from writer/director Andrew Niccol. But he winds up playing a concept, rather than a character and the end result fails to inspire his hyper-charged instincts or the audience. C

Two for the Money: Mildly entertaining film, but Pacino comes awfully close to doing something extraordinary. As an obsessive gambler who is never more alive than when he is closest to losing everything, Pacino (given better material) clearly could have painted an incredibly vivid portrait of addiction. A noble aim, but the wrong film. C

Bobby Deerfield: Pacino's first major career miscalculation. He has said this is the film he feels closest to, even though he admits it ultimately never gelled. His personal goals with the film may explain its awkward aloofness. Pacino wanted to explore the nature of celebrity obsession and how it makes his famed racecar driver more insulated. Director Sydney Pollack seems to have wanted to make a typical TV Disease Movie of the Week love story. The final film is a confused and, at times, a painful experience. C-

Gigli: This film is not the unmitigated turd that everyone proclaims it to be. Nevertheless, "Gigli" is now synonymous with "bomb". Pacino's participation is limited to a single scene. He plays yet another gangster with ice running through his veins. He has said in interviews that he failed to accomplish the "flavor" he wanted with the character. As it exists, it seems to be just another excuse for him to scream at the highest register possible. This is probably the fault of the director Martin Brest more than anyone else, given the fact that he is only given a few minutes to achieve a lasting impact. C-

Cruising: Ill-conceived from the get-go, Pacino thought that "Cruising" promised the psychological thriller that director William Freidkin had masterminded in "The Exorcist". Boy, was he wrong. Playing a cop who goes undercover in the sadomasochistic gay underworld of New York City, Pacino seems like he would rather be anywhere else. You can detect that he is not within his comfort zone -- not because of the gay themes (which he so subtly explored in "Dog Day Afternoon") but because the film is constantly struggling to discover its own identity. F

Revolution: A disaster of a film that lacks the scope and the vision it so sorely requires. Pacino is unbelievable from the first frame of this Revolutionary War epic, perhaps sensing the project was not heading into the direction he desired from the preproduction stages. When Pacino's heart is not in something, he flounders badly. This is the strongest evidence of that defect that you'll find in his resume. F

WORTH A LOOK:
Disappointing pictures that, nevertheless, offer Pacino a chance to shine.

City Hall: This poorly paced, but highly literate film casts Pacino as the Mayor of New York City. Playing a well-meaning politician who has made too many shady backdoor deals, Pacino underplays beautifully with the exception of one regrettable scene. For the most part, his character's inner conflicts read perfectly in the skittishness of his glance and the slightest ticks of his facial expressions. C+

Any Given Sunday: Oh, Oliver Stone...why do you always feel the need to ruin a good thing? Typically overcooked, Stone's film squanders a host of dramatic possibilities in the name of adrenaline. As a writer and director of actors, he is a perfect match for an actor like Pacino. But his A.D.D.-influenced vision sabotages the flow of the performances. Still, Pacino is instantly believeable as an NFL coach who may have past his prime. Pacino's work has been done, but it's hard to recognize subtlety in the midst of such noisy chaos. C+

People I Know: An undiscovered gem of a performance in a film that's more miss than hit. This indie film casts Pacino as a struggling big city PR guy with an addiction to the big hustle. Pacino plays a Southern Jew with relish -- always trying to outmanuveur his gradual demise from self-destruction. This is the kind of film that reminds you that not only is Pacino one of our great "stars", but a true character actor as well. He constructs the role with odd, telling ticks and mannerisms. Watch the scene in the doctor's office when he stops huimself from breaking down and try not to get chill bumps. C+

To view even more in-depth film reviews, visit blog.myspace.com/raycejamey.

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