Al Pacino is one the greatest American actors in the history of film. He has played some of the most iconic characters in movie history from The Godfather to Scarface and more recently Jimmy Hoffa in Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman. He has worked alongside just about every great American actor we have to offer from Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Lee Strasberg, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and many more. It would be easier to list those he has not worked with yet. However, he has not always made the best decisions when it comes to choosing roles. For every Godfather there’s an 88 Minutes and for every role like Scarface there’s a role like Starkman in Gigli (ouch). This blog looks at some of Pacino’s best and worst decisions over his 50 years of acting.
When it comes to highs for Pacino, it’s an easy decision. After his first big role of Bobby in The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Pacino landed one of the defining roles of his career as Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972). It’s hard to imagine any other actor as Michael Corleone in the Godfather trilogy unless you are a studio executive at Paramount Pictures. By now anyone who knows anything about Pacino and the original Godfather knows he was on the verge of getting fired daily. It wasn’t until the scene where Michael kills the police chief and Virgil Sollozzo in the Italian diner that executives backed off the drumbeat of “we need to get rid of this kid”. Even Al thought he wasn’t a good fit for Michael as he was much more interested in playing hothead Sonny.
After his breakout in The Godfather, Pacino followed up with two more impressive roles as Lion in Scarecrow and playing real life police officer Frank Serpico in Sidney Lumet’s Serpico both released in 1973. Al returned to play Micheal Corleone in the best sequel in film history The Godfather: Part II (1974). With The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II only two years apart, we’re still awaiting a release of The Godfather Saga on dvd or blu ray! The Epic merges parts one and two in one long cut in chronological order and is the best way to enjoy these two Academy Award winning films.
Following The Godfather: Part II, Al joined long-time friend and acting great John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon (1975). This was the third film in which the two worked together, but unfortunately the last due to Cazale’s battle with cancer (see our previous blog “Only the Good Actors Die Young”). With numerous classics already under his belt, Al Pacino had yet to win an Academy Award. He was a bit perplexed after being nominated for Supporting Actor for his role in the original Godfather film, given his part was actually bigger than Marlon Brando’s who went on to win the award.
After a break, Pacino next appeared in Bobby Deerfield (1977) and earned another Academy Award nomination for his role in And Justice For All (1979) playing idealistic lawyer Arthur Kirkland (listen to or watch our podcast on Life Changing Movies for more on this film). Although Pacino played a gay bank robber in Dog Day Afternoon (1975), he took on a more controversial role in Cruising (1980) playing undercover cop Steve Burns. Burns goes into the gay underworld in search of a killer as the lines of his own struggle with homophobia become blurred in this William Friedkin directed film available on special edition blu ray from Arrow films.
Al’s next big role was playing drug dealing gangster Tony Montana in the Brian De Palma epic <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://<!– wp:paragraph –> <p>After a break, Pacino next appeared in <em><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075774/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_54" target="_blank">Bobby Deerfield</a></em> (1977) and earned another Academy Award nomination for his role in <em><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078718/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_52" target="_blank">And Justice For All</a></em> (1979) playing idealistic lawyer Arthur Kirkland (listen to or watch our podcast on <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://pandora.app.link/NSug1wuR5gb" target="_blank">Life Changing Movies</a> for more on this film). Although Pacino played a gay bank robber in <em>Dog Day Afternoon</em> (1975), he took on a more controversial role in <em><a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080569/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_51" target="_blank">Cruising</a> </em>(1980) playing undercover cop Steve Burns. Burns goes into the gay underworld in search of a killer as the lines of his own struggle with homophobia become blurred in this <a href="https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001243/?ref_=tt_ov_dr" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">William Friedkin</a> directed film available on special edition blu ray from Arrow films. </p> Scarface (1983). Next to Michael Corleone, this is likely Pacino’s best known role and marks the peak of his career. Over the next fifteen years, Al Pacino continued to act in great movies and stretch himself to his limits. Nearly unrecognizable as Big Boy Caprice in Warren Beatty’s big budget film Dick Tracy (1990), Pacino then reprised his role as Michael Corleone in the third installment of the Godfather trilogy, which was panned by some, but not by “Oh Brother”. (Listen to our podcast on “Why You Should Love The Godfather: Part III”). After taking on the big screen version of Ricky Roma in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), a part he played on stage with a slightly different cast, Pacino portrayed Lt. Col. Frank Slade earning his first Oscar in Scent of A Woman (1992) (yes, you read that right).
Over the next few years, Pacino continued to deliver impressive performances in not so impressive films. He was Carlito in Carlito’s Way (1993) and played Lt. Vincent Hanna, finally opposite Robert Dinero, in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995). Other roles included Mayor Pappas in City Hall (1996), Lefty in Donnie Brasco (1997) opposite Johnny Depp, lawyer John Milton in The Devil’s Advocate (1997) opposite Keanu Reeves, Lowell Bergman from 60 minutes in The Insider (1999) opposite Russell Crowe, Tony D’Amato in Any Given Sunday (1999) and Will Dorma in Insomnia (2002) opposite Robin Williams. Wow, that is a ton of great work, but things kind of took a turn after that.
Starting with S1m0ne in (2002), Al’s golden touch turned a bit bronze. He followed this forgettable film with People I Know (2002) a film most people don’t know. There was his decision to star opposite Benifer 1.0 in the comically panned Gigli (2003), Righteous Kill (2008) again with De Niro, and what has to be the worst decision in his long storied career the absolutely abysmal Jack and Jill (2011) with Adam Sandler, Stand Up Guys (2012), The Humbling (2014), and a few other misfires that only Al can understand why he did them.
When it’s all said and done, no amount of bad film choices can take away the greatness of Al Pacino or make a dent in the overall resume that includes more iconic roles than any actor deserves. The Irishman (2019) proved Al still has the chops to take on a great role. Joining Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel was the kind of move Pacino should continue to make for the final act of his career. Although currently playing Meyer Offerman in the Amazon series Hunters (2020-), here’s hoping Pacino makes his return to the big screen soon!