Alan made a baldfaced, shocking statement the other day. He said Al Pacino was a lousy actor. He said he’s nothing but an arm-waving scenery-chewer, and then he dropped a bomb: “Face it, he hasn’t been in a decent movie since ‘The Godfather.'”
That’s some pretty strong meat there. His IMDb entry, admittedly written by some fanboy, begins, One of the greatest actors in all of film history… and no one has posted jeering rejoinders. This wasn’t an in-depth debate — I believe the context was whether to indulge me in my 4,592nd viewing or partial viewing of “Heat” or to keep clicking the remote — but I got that feeling of itchy doubt that suggested he might have a point. So I stopped reading the biography and clicked over to the filmography.
Alan wasn’t entirely correct; some of the best performances of Pacino’s career were made after “The Godfather,” but not long after. Two-thirds of the ones that made his bones, IMHO — “Panic in Needle Park,” “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon” — were after the first “Godfather.” But by 1979 he was already showing us what could happen to Michael Corleone without a good director telling him to dial it down by 54 percent on take two: “…And Justice For All,” an embarrassment; “Cruising,” ditto; “Author! Author!,” a steaming pile; and, of course, the bad performance next to which all other bad performances must stand and be judged not-even-close, “Scarface.”
Then came, what? “Sea of Love,” in which we’re asked to believe Ellen Barkin is driven into a state of cross-eyed lust at the very sight of him. (I remember their hot coupling scenes, this blonde goddess of steam and the little homunculus.) “Glengarry Glen Ross” was a brief return to the early promise, and then came the headfirst slide into caricature: “Scent of a Woman,” “The Devil’s Advocate” and, God help us all, “Any Given Sunday,” in which Oliver Stone not only indulged the worst instincts of his star but encouraged others in the cast to play along. I remember watching that on the couch with Alan. True to Stone form, it was not only too long, there was another 15 minutes after the big climax, where the wounded-warrior player gets his redemption. I went to bed after the redemption scene, and as Alan crawled in half an hour later, I asked what happened.
“Al Pacino gets another job, and boy, was Cameron Diaz mad,” he said. Poor Cameron had to play every scene at 11; I guess she couldn’t even mellow after they won the big game.
I liked “Heat,” mostly because it had De Niro, Saint Val of the Chiseled Jaw, and a decent turn by Ashley Judd, and the precious Ted Levine and Diane Venora; even Tom Sizemore did work to be proud of in that thing. But now all I see are the scenes when Pacino gives it 110 percent; you want to tell him, “Keep your dignity. Stop yelling so much. Small men should command with authority, not volume, or everyone thinks they’re an asshole.” But noooo.
“Angels in America,” OK, the exception that proves the rule. He’s capable of so much more that when he sucks, it’s his own fault.
My sister saw Pacino on Broadway, in “American Buffalo.” “We were close enough that his spit went all over us when he got cranked up,” she said at the time.
I guess Alan wins this one. Make a contrary case, or nominate your own entry. I have to work on a newsletter.