Friday, April 26, 2013

Happy birthday, Al Pacino!

I'm a day late in my appreciation of Al Pacino -- he turned 73 yesterday -- but not a dollar short: I think he's still potentially the most watchable actor of his generation and among the most watchable of any age.

The important word is "potentially," because he's willing to appear in crap and classics with equal zest: He played himself in Adam Sandler's excruciating "Jack and Jill" two years ago, and he's now planning to take the title role of "King Lear." In fact, he's the only American now regularly exploring Shakespearean parts onscreen: He made the thoughtful documentary "Looking for Richard," about playing Richard III, and he has starred in "The Merchant of Venice" as Shylock.

A reader e-mailed me this week to propose an Al Pacino Day. He laid out all the evidence for one at this site:, and it comes with a sense of humor. He recommends keeping your volume control close at hand as you cue up classic Pacino films, "because you're going to hear many raspy whispers, followed immediately by YELLING."

What impresses me most about Pacino is his versatility, willingness to experiment and challenge himself. (Yes, even in "Jack and Jill.") Since becoming a movie star in the two "Godfather" films, he has appeared on Broadway in nine shows, including the "Glengarry Glen Ross" revival that ended this year. What other American actor comes close to that record?

He'll take roles big or small, sympathetic or unsympathetic, in big-budget fluff ("Ocean's Thirteen") or gritty little indies ("The Son of No One"). He seems to have a sense of humor about himself and speaks about his career as though he's just a working actor, rather than the creator of the iconic Michael Corleone and Tony Montana and re-creator of Roy Cohn (for the TV version of  "Angels in America").

In that sense, he's more European than American: He continually reinvents himself and doesn't have to be the star or the best-paid person in a production. And though he sometimes falls back on old tricks -- who wouldn't repeat himself after 50 years in the business? -- a good script challenges him to dig deeper, as the HBO movie "Phil Spector" shows. May he act for many years to come.


Anonymous said...

I like him a lot..but as a Cuban-American his "Scarface" persona is still a joke after all these years..and with all respect to them,there's a marked difference between Cubans and Mexicans..there was none in the movie.."Yeya" indeed!

Anonymous said...

True enough. That character is iconic, but accurate?