It seems like more than a few seventies movies have lines of dialogue in which girls swoon over Al Pacino. A quick search only revealed the one, the girl in Saturday Night Fever who sighs that she just kissed Al Pacino (is that Fran Drescher with that line?), but I feel like there are more, that he was this big-time sex symbol thirty-odd years ago.
I've had that sense for a while, and I never understood it. He's teeny. He walks like an insulted crab. He spends the bulk of The Godfather wiping his nose, trying to ignite his various simpering love interests with his glare, and fiddling with paperweights while telling Tom Hagen he sucks at his job. Interesting to watch, even when he's a caricature of himself, sure. He's compelling.
I didn't question why he's revered as an actor, certainly. We mock the HOO-AH now — rightly — but there is a moment when the frantic, desperate HOO-AH drops away and reveals the insupportable sadness that makes the HOO-AH essential to the character's survival. He does it in the damnedest places, too, sometimes: Dog Day Afternoon, but then also Any Given Sunday.
And if I may take a sidebar, part of what I like about Oliver Stone movies is that, amid all the bombast, the actors kind of have to find their own ways, and that can end up in some unexpected places. It doesn't go so well for the more limited cast members, but the good actors make hay while the sun shines (and sometimes the Movie Stars™ pull out some cool shit, viz. Tom Cruise in Born on the 4th of July). The scene between Gekko and Darien on the sidewalk in Wall Street is a good example: Daryl Hannah is playing it vaguely and just trying to keep her face in good light, and Michael Douglas is feasting on his lines.
Sidney Lumet also gets really good performances from his actors, but I don't enjoy his films as much.The pretension isn't offset as well as Stone's is, somehow, and they often seem to put outstanding acting against the backdrop a stilted and overlong script: Network (good work by the actors, but I hate Dunaway's performance and consider the entire movie vastly overrated), The Pawnbroker (great performance, draggy pace), The Morning After (top-notch Fonda but overwrought), and The Verdict (another great performance, this time Newman, strangled in the crib by a weird Lumet/Mamet combo behind the camera).
I do like some Lumet movies, most recently this one, but I wish his editor would sharpen up the knife; Serpico, like several of his others, makes a career-making performance the crown jewel in a pasteboard diadem composed of repetitive scenes (He's just not going to take the fucking money, guy who worked the grift with Hooker and Luther in The Sting! Find something else to talk about, or kill him, but for God's sake drop it with the bagman thing!) and simply awful performances by the women in Serpico's life. The scene in the bathtub where Logs McFlatline The Elder is telling Serpico that she's going to Texas to get married is amazing: Pacino is nearly perfused with sorrow, and he is beautiful, with the long hair and the wet beard and the big dying eyes. I sat bolt upright and said, "Holy SHIT, Al Pacino," because he is fantastic in the scene, and he is also wet and naked and has this hair you want to curl up in and he can really wear a pair of hoop earrings.Go find it on YouTube. Watch him becoming a legend in front of you. It's really cool.
But then his lady friend is soaping his hair and delivering her lines like a supercomputer punch card; she's so so bad. "I'm so. Sorry. Paco 10010100011." And then the movie goes on for another two hours, and nothing else really happens, honestly. Serpico stomps around a lot and lets his beard get long and yells at various lieutenants about how he just wants to catch bad guys, and the dirty cops keep harassing him, and having meetings about harassing him, and inviting him to meetings about harassing him to talk about the next meeting at which they will harass him, like, "this one cop wore fringed vests and wouldn't take bribes" is…not a plot.
But if you've ever blown Pacino off as overrated, watch Serpico. Lazy, later in his career? I'll cosign that. Too yelly sometimes? Yes. Overrated? No. And Lumet is, in general, a bit overrated in terms of the quality of his product, but when it comes to getting performances like that out of his cast, he's one of the best. Grandpa just needs to shoot for 90 minutes more often so the movies overall aren't so flabby.
Tags: Al Pacino Daryl Hannah David Mamet Faye Dunaway Fran Drescher It's Log Jane Fonda legendary facial hair movies Oliver Stone overrated! Paul Newman Sidney Lumet Tom Cruise