Pacino’s Way

On Film / The Daily — Mar 14, 2018

From today through March 30, the Quad Cinema in New York is presenting Pacino’s Way, a decades-spanning retrospective that will build up to screenings of two films Pacino’s directed, Wilde Salomé (2011) and Salomé (2013).

“From 1971 to 1976,” writes Greg Cwik for Slant, “Pacino had a run of performances that boggles the mind—in Jerry Schatzberg’s A Panic in Needle Park, the two Godfather films, and Sidney Lumet’s Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Each performance has become enshrined in the American cinema canon. . . . In the ‘80s, Pacino did more controversial fair, notably as a cop infiltrating New York’s gay leather scene in William Friedkin's salacious and invidious Cruising, and as the bombastic, cocaine-huffing megalomaniac Tony Montana, a sort of Michael Corleone type without the discipline, in Brian De Palma’s Scarface. . . . In the ‘90s, Pacio began to craft his own caricature, though he didn’t succumb to it.”

“Here’s what Pacino wants you to take away from the retrospective, especially if you think he’s often the same in every role onscreen—if you always say, ‘Oh, that’s Al,’” writes Vulture’s David Edelstein mid-interview:

“It’s an overview of an acting artist from the Village, really,” he says, and suggests looking at his four gangsters, Michael Corleone, Tony Montana in Scarface, Carlito from Carlito’s Way, and Lefty Ruggiero in Donnie Brasco. They couldn’t be more different. Pacino’s Montana is huge and burns like a filament, a purposely two-dimensional character in a film that the director, Brian De Palma, called a “Brechtian opera”—and Pacino loves how Tony became a cultural icon, however cataclysmic the trajectory. Carlito, on the other hand, is a man who gets out of prison and wants to put his life in order—the opposite of Montana, who manufactures chaos. Lefty is a Mafia middleman, a second-rater striving to rise in the ranks but brought down by a surrogate son who turns out to be an undercover FBI agent.
Sometimes, Pacino says, he goes overboard, sometimes underboard. “But as Lee Strasberg used to say, ‘Don’t do what you can do. Do what you can’t do. That’s how you learn.’”

For Danielle Burgos at Screen Slate, “the peak, the absolute zenith, of Shouty Al is his scene-devouring performance” in Taylor Hackford’s The Devil's Advocate (1997). “Penned by V. C. Andrews’s posthumous ghostwriter and infused with the same brand of unblinking, deliriously high-gothic lunacy, The Devil’s Advocate distills the spirit of a thousand lawyer jokes into pure, potent popcorn fare.”

Writing for Forward, Seth Rogovoy asks, “Is Al Pacino one of the great Jewish actors of our time? Hear me out.”

Update: The Village Voice’s Bilge Ebiri talks with Pacino “about some of these movies, his beginnings in experimental theater—and also about whether he sometimes takes things too far.”

Updates, 3/18: For the Notebook, Adrian Curry’s put together a gallery of posters for films starring Pacino.

And contributors to the Playlist write about Pacino’s best performances.

Update, 3/19: In Pacino’s filmography, William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) “remains a bit of an outlier,” writes Caroline Golum at Screen Slate. “His Detective Burns is vulnerable, but curious, and one wonders if seeing Michael Corleone bumping-and-grinding in a crowd of rough trade was too much for most meathead moviegoers. Burns’s infiltration of this leather menagerie (otters and wolves and bears, oh my!) was unimaginable to audiences in 1980, and probably did more than little to dissuade tourists from visiting our fair city. It was a risky move for Pacino, too, but when has the Maestro ever shied away from the hard-to-handle and tough-to-bear? Although its initial release was fraught with violent protest, Cruising has aged wonderfully – as a film about repression and sexuality, a rain-slicked nail-biter, a document of a now-lost subculture and, for a few us, as a vehicle for Pacino’s finest turn on the dance floor since Connie Corleone’s wedding.”

Update, 3/22: “Starting with its production in 1979, and on through its release the following year, this sweaty cop thriller, set in the world of waterfront leather bars, would become the focal point of a heated debate that raged throughout New York City, its gay community, and the pages of this very publication,” writes Jason Bailey in the Village Voice. The film, of course, is Cruising, and Bailey revisits some of the “elemental questions” it raised—“of who is permitted to tell a culture’s stories and who is not; of the limits of free speech and peaceful protest; of the significance and consequences of representation in popular art”—and the Voice has put together a package of its coverage of the production that includes Andrew Sarris’s review from the following year.

Update, 3/24: “He was never as statuesque as Brando, and his characters, while not everymen, often conveyed the calculus of everyday life,” writes Nicholas Forster for the Village Voice. “He made it look as if each decision was thought out rather than scripted—as if, on another viewing of Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Pacino’s desperate bank robber, Sonny Wortzik, might make an entirely different decision about how to proceed. That film, [like Serpico,] a Pacino–Lumet collaboration, presents us with another complicated moral universe in which the Pacino character tries to resist the pressures of power. It was a common theme for Lumet: When his protagonists raged against the constrictions and corruption around them, they were met with a shattered sense of the world and a life rerouted in ways previously unforeseen. What remains at the end of movies like Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico is always the same question: What to do next?”

Updates, 3/28: David Sims for the Atlantic: “The arc of Pacino’s career is a fascinating mirror of the film industry’s own growths and regressions from the 1970s onward, as the freewheeling New Hollywood movement exploded into the commercial mainstream, then ossified into something broader and more blockbuster-focused. Pacino has been a bankable star, a washed-up ham, a luminary, and a living punchline—and he’s still consistently working at the age of seventy-seven. Going through his entire filmography is a rewarding trip through American cinema’s highs and lows.” Sims picks out some “highlights from either end.”

Pacino and Barry Levinson discuss their new film, Paterno, on the Bill Simmons Podcast (70’00”). The conversation then segues naturally enough to The Godfather.

Updates, 3/30: “The movie never addresses it quite so explicitly, but Wilde Salomé is most fascinating as a portrait of a superstar actor who, for all his wealth and privilege, encounters unusual frustrations as he pursues genuine artistic ambitions,” writes Glenn Kenny in the New York Times. “By the same token, though, not a lot of documentarians out there have the name-recognition clout to attract Tom Stoppard, Gore Vidal, Tony Kushner and, yes, Ireland’s Artistic Ambassador to the World, Bono, to weigh in on Oscar Wilde for them.”

For Interview, Ryma Chikhoune introduces four of them—interviews, that is, with Pacino, conducted by Jessica Chastain, Christopher Nolan, Mike Newell, and Michael Radford.

For Vulture, Will Leitch and Tim Grierson rank every Pacino performance.

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.