Paterno highlights how TV film format has helped Al Pacino cement his acting legacy

Gautam Chintamani

Apr 29, 2018 14:15:56 IST

Epithets such as ‘the best or ‘the greatest’ bestowed on actors who earned their chops in the 1970s — often considered to be the most glorious decade of movies in the US — can be tricky.

Very few from that era have maintained a body of work to date that would justify the tag as times have changed. Al Pacino, who recently turned 78, might not be as prolific as contemporaries like Robert De Niro or Jack Nicholson (who invariably generate greater buzz every time they come out with a film). However, there is little doubt that it’s Pacino who perhaps still stands the tallest when it comes to onscreen appearances that hark back to his glory days. Pacino, one of the last few greats with the “Triple Crown of Acting” — a competitive Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony Award — is also perhaps the only male actor who could match a Meryl Streep today when it comes to aura.

Paterno highlights how TV film format has helped Al Pacino cement his acting legacy

Al Pacino as Joe Paterno, the once exalted football coach of Penn State University, who fell from grace after the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal came to light

When it comes to the 1970s despite the presence of a resurgent Marlon Brando (The Godfather, Last Tango in Paris), the golden run of Jack Nicholson (Five Easy Pieces, King of Marvin Gardens, The Last Detail, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Passenger), the arrival of Robert De Niro (Bang The Drum Slowly, The Godfather II, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver), the unpredictability of Dustin Hoffman (Straw Dogs, All the President’s Men, Lenny, Kramer Vs Kramer), the seminal Ellen Burstyn (The Last Picture Show, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The Exorcist) or Diane Keaton (Play it Again Sam, The Godfather II, Love and Death, Annie Hall, Interiors), it’s probably Al Pacino whose filmography remains peerless.

Even his lesser-known films from the period like Panic in the Needle Park, Scarecrow evoke the same passion such as the great ones – The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather II, Bobby Deerfield or ...And Justice for All.

Unlike De Niro, Pacino has refrained from relegating himself to a prop in commercial films that look like projects sewn together on the basis of the cast's box office feasibility. When compared to a Nicholson, Pacino has not become a legend who needs to be cajoled out of retirement with a project worthy of his brilliance. In stark contrast to Hoffman, Pacino continues to attract roles in which he can truly immerse himself. It’s not as though Pacino hasn't made missteps in the recent past (2011's Jack and Jill comes to mind); in fact, Pacino is also among the legends who can go from delivering a master performance to hamming in the fastest time. Yet he still commands great respect from not just fans but also peers and critics, for his ability to pick up the odd role every now and then that rekindles memories of his 1970s classics.

Interestingly it’s the TV film format that has regularly come to Pacino’s rescue. To his credit, Pacino has seized every such opportunity with great alacrity. This phase in Pacino’s career began with You Don't Know Jack (2010) where he brought to life the real-life pathologist Dr Jack Kevorkian, who helped the terminally ill and profoundly disabled to end their lives. Directed by Barry Levinson, You Don’t Know Jack fetched Pacino a Screen Actors Guild Award as well as the Golden Globe and his interpretation of “Dr Death” was a tightrope walk that he executed with signature finesse. Critics noted how biographies often tend to sympathise with the individuals they are based on and irrespective of who they are, be it Hitler or Stalin, but Pacino never let Jack Kevorkian’s “crackpot charm overtake the character’s egomaniacal drive.”

A few years later Pacino featured in David Mamet’s Phil Spector (2013) where he played the eponymous infamous record producer, songwriter, and musician who was later convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson. Once again, thanks to the TV film format that liberated the narrative of certain commercial constraints such as casting decisions, Phil Spector was a treat — as was watching Pacino alongside Helen Mirren, who played Spector’s defence attorney, Linda Kenney. The recently released HBO biopic Paterno where Pacino portrays Joe Paterno, the most successful coach in college football history who fell from grace in 2011 after his role in Penn State University’s Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal came to light, is just the latest in the complex characters that the legendary star continues to shine in.

All through his career Pacino has imbued his characters with subtle nuances that have allowed us to look deep into their souls. He is one of the few truly gifted actors who can tap into something redeeming even within the most contemptible scoundrels. Here’s wishing Pacino many more great roles!

Updated Date: Apr 29, 2018 14:23:30 IST