When Francis Ford Coppola was shooting Godfather, Paramount wanted Robert Redford or Ryan O Neal , to play the role of Michael Corleone , the Don’s youngest son. Coppola however picked up an unknown Italian American actor, who was a B movie star, and had a huge argument with Paramount over this. Coppola felt that this man perfectly fitted the role with his Italian looks, and he threatened to quit if Paramount did not consider his choice. And so a star was born- Al Pacino. Along with Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken he would make up the 70’s pack of highly talented actors, pushing the envelope in intense and serious roles. Michael Corleone made Pacino a household name, and he would play the role in both the sequels of Godfather. Along with a Best Supporting Actor nomination, Pacino had arrived.
To be noticed when sharing screen space with Marlon Brando is no mean feat, and Pacino managed to do it. As the reluctant younger son, who has to take the mantle, after the death of his father and elder brother, he managed to put in a powerhouse performance. Especially in the scenes where he comes into his own as the Don.
Al Pacino showed that the Godfather was no flash in the pan, with Serpico in 1973. Based on a real life story, Pacino played Frank Serpico , a honest, idealistic New York cop, who wages a lone battle against his corrupt colleagues. Serpico was typical of many counterculture movies of 70’s like Taxi Driver, French Connection , showing a lone man fighting against a corrupt society. It reflected the cynicism of the times, and Pacino puts in a knockout performance, especially in the final scene, where he testifies against his corrupt officers after being injured. 1974 saw him in the sequel to Godfather , where Pacino’s character now becomes one of the leading Dons, and this movie depicts his rise to power, preserving his father’s legacy.
And then he followed it up with a superb turn in 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon . Directed by Sidney Lumet( who had earlier directed Serpico), this was a black comedy, and a biting satire on the culture of 15 minutes of fame. Pacino plays the role of Sonny Wortzik , who robs a bank to finance his friend’s sex change operation. However the heist is totally botched up and becomes a media circus, with Sonny on one side, and the cops on another side. One of Pacino’s best performances, where he is confused, vulnerable and plain stupid. He is ambitious and has delusions of grandeur, but he still makes you emphathize with his loser act. Watch him negotiate with the cops and then play to the crowds with chants of Attica, it’s a master class in acting.
And in 1979 he hit the high with his role as an idealistic lawyer Arthur Kirkland who has to defend his corrupt and sleazy colleague on a rape charge in .. And Justice For All . And of course Pacino simply lights up the screen in that famous court scene where he shouts “You are out of order, they are out of order, the whole trial is out of order”. That would set the trend for another Pacino specialty, his long winded monologues. The 70’s was a memorable decade as he earned 4 nominations for Serpico, Godfather II, Dog Day Afternoon and .. And Justice For All . Along with Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver , he became the icon for the counter culture movement with his Dog Day Afternoon .
The 1990’s saw Al Pacino playing the main villain in Dick Tracy , as well as Michael Corleone in the Godfather III. He however came back into full form as a blind, cranky colonel in 1992’s Scent of A Woman. As Col Frank Slade who befriends a young intern, Pacino delivers another unforgettable performance. Whether its his dancing antics in a bar, or the first meeting with the young intern, he is again outstanding. And of course that famous outburst in the court sequence, vintage Pacino. He deservedly won a Best Actor for that movie.
The same year also saw Pacino as Ricky Roma , an unscrouplous salesman, who has to do anything inorder to survive in Glen Garry Glen Ross. Pacino was now firmly back in action, and in 1993’s Carlito’s Way he plays a Puerto Rican gangster Carlito Brigante , who wants to go straight after being released from prison, only he finds its not that easy. Excellent movie, with a memorable performance by Pacino, as the gangster wanting to go straight, his struggles and finally the tragic end. Also watch out for the wonderful scenes between Pacino and Sean Penn , playing a crooked lawyer.
1995 saw the Clash of the Titans, as Pacino clashed on screen with Robert De Niro in Heat. Pacino plays a veteran L.A. cop Vincent Hanna, who has a running feud with a master robber Neil Mc Cauley played by Robert De Niro. In spite of the fact that he is a top cop, Pacino’s personal life is in a total mess, while De Niro, is a methodical loner. Worth watching for the restaurant scene where Pacino and De Niro face off together on screen. Watch both these great actors, play back and forth, with some wonderful expressions, simply unforgettable.
While his over the top performance in The Devil’s Advocate was not that great, he hit back in the same year, 1997, with a performance that remains one of his most underrated. Donnie Brasco, based on the real life story of Joe Pistone, an undercover Fed agent, who infiltrates the New York mafia, starred Pacino along side with upcoming talent Johnny Depp. While Depp played the title role, it was Pacino who stole the show, as Lefty Rugeiro, a former hitman, washed up and lonely, who acts as a father figure to Pistone a.k.a Donnie Brasco. One of Pacino’s most understated and subtle performance, when he says “If you are a rat, I am the biggest mutt in the history of the Mafia”, he makes you feel for him. He makes you say, please not this guy, so wonderful does he make you empathize with him.
And then in 1999, he came up with two unforgettable performances. One was Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, as an ageing coach Tony D’Amato, who has to put up with an overbearing boss, who doesn’t agree with his values, this was one of Pacino’s best performances. Be it in the tender scene where he assures Dennis Quaid that he would be with him, or the scenes where he motivates his team members or the face offs he has with Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, he shines ever so bright in an ensemble cast.
The same year he appeared in a real life drama The Insider, where he plays T.V. reporter Lowell Bergman, who exposes a corporate scandal on CBS with the help of The Insider Jeffrey Wigam( Russel Crowe). As the crusading reporter, he comes out with another great performance, though the movie was more of a Crowe show. Pacino actually interacted with real life T.V. reporters to know more of his role.