Academy of the Overrated.

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.

Posted at 8:45 am in Movies |

42 responses to “Academy of the Overrated.”

  1. Danny said on August 21, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Tell Alan that not only does he win this one, but that he is absolutely right because I agree with him.

    We routinely avoid anything in which that little ball of hate appears. And it isn’t only the yelling, it’s the never-ending stream of profanity that spews forth. I mean if the guy played in Hamlet, it’d be “To be or not to fuckin’ be” by Bill Fucking Shakespeare.

    The one great line I remember from Glengarry Glen Ross: “Coffee is for closers!” Not sure who uttered that one.

    501 chars

  2. MichaelG said on August 21, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Ellen Barkin is indeed a goddess.

    33 chars

  3. Dorothy said on August 21, 2007 at 10:33 am

    “Serpico” is one of my favorite movies. I love watching Al dance at a party where his girlfriend hollers “Everybody loves you, Paco!” He does a goofy dance, but I like it.

    And you’re right about the steamy scene in “Sea of Love.” Turned me on big time the first time I saw it.

    284 chars

  4. nancy said on August 21, 2007 at 11:06 am

    I have to give Al a little credit for “Cruising.” There’s a scene in which he goes on the dance floor at a gay bar and gets taken away with the music that’s not bad. But when I think about that movie, I think about the anonymous-sex scene in the Ramble, with Al asking, “Lips or hips?” Do gay men actually do that?

    314 chars

  5. Laura said on August 21, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Tom Cruise is tough to beat in the bad acting category. He plays Tom Cruise in every part. During an especially insipid scene in Minority Report, I vowed that I would never see another one of his films agan. So I haven’t. And this was even before he got super weird.

    Oliver Stone? Yuck. Don’t get me started.

    313 chars

  6. GMan said on August 21, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    I guess Scarface is just a guy movie. My wife hated it as well. I think he was great in it. For a more sensitive Pacino, check him out with Michelle Pfeiffer in Frankie and Johnny.

    183 chars

  7. LA mary said on August 21, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Tom Cruise always plays a guy trying to act straight. Kind of like Steve Martin in All of Me, in the courtroom scene playing a guy who has been taken over by the spirit of a woman, acting like a man.
    Jeff Goldblum always plays Jeff Goldblum, and since I don’t find him annoying, I’m ok with that. Jeff Bridges sort of always plays Jeff Bridges, and I really like him, so that works too.

    Dog Day Afternoon is one of my favorite movies, and I will always hold that as my Al Pacino experience.

    496 chars

  8. Danny said on August 21, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Anyone here see Tender Mercies? Robert Duvall’s “acting” in that was something to behold. A definite put-you-to-sleep-like-Rumpelstiltskin vibe. I’m not saying it was bad. It just left us scratching our heads as to if he even had to act for that. Yeah Bob, just deliver every line with graveyard stoicism and stare out the window in repsonse to most stimuli.

    370 chars

  9. Dorothy said on August 21, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Now Danny, Tender Mercies is in the top 10 of my favorite movies, and Duvall is probably my favorite actor. He shined in that movie! But the good thing about movies (and books, and blogs) is there’s something for everyone. I loved Bob in TM, and Lonesome Dove. He played a pretty good Cuban in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.

    324 chars

  10. nancy said on August 21, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Fun fact to know and tell: Robert Duvall is devoted to the tango. Has a dance floor in his house, married an Argentine dancer, works with a pro regularly, etc. If you ever see him, don’t ask for an autograph, ask him to dance.

    226 chars

  11. LA mary said on August 21, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Ever see The Great Santini? Robert Duvall is good in that one.

    62 chars

  12. Danny said on August 21, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Dorothy, I agree that Duvall is a great actor and that TM was a very good movie. It is just that sometimes you watch someone acting and wonder if it was all that hard of a job and if you couldn’t have done it just as well. Well, except for the singing part. I do not sing well.

    Everything was so deadpan and understated in that performance, it just looked very easy. Like one-take easy.

    393 chars

  13. MarkH said on August 21, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    “Glengarry” is a masterpiece of darkness. I’ve been in sales all my life, and Mamet knew exactly what he was doing. I knew every one of those desperate characters. Right from the start, with Alec Baldwin’s approach to sales meeting motivation (where he spits that “closers” line to Jack Lemmon, Danny) it grabs anyone who knows what that life is all about, especially in the dark netherworld of real estate land/development sales. UGH. Pacino blends in very well with that incredible cast and does not overwhelm them or the story, IMHO. Also, I never saw the play, but my understanding is the Baldwin character was only in the movie.

    My seniments exactly about “Heat”, Nancy. Riveting, well acted by all, even Al, who I think went the other way in the coffee shop scene with DeNiro: who can win the underplay smackdown? Watched it all the way through maybe two or three times, but sections of it a thousand times. James Woolcott did a great article dicsecting Heat for Vanity Fair a few years ago, hailing it as a masterpiece. And, Ive never heard anyone, anywhere, hail Ted Levine! (Who I agree is under utilized.)

    I can take or leave almost all of Pacino’s post-Godfather stuff, except DDA, and “…and justice for all”, where I disagree with you Nancy. Not Oscar-worthy stuff, but an entertaining capsule indictment of the legal system; great supporting performances by all, and Al does not overdo it until (perhaps) the courtroom meltdown at the end. I think he struck mostly the right notes as a compassionate lawyer dragged kicking and screaming (literally) into cynicism.

    Agree on all the rest, though.

    1618 chars

  14. brian stouder said on August 21, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Ever see The Great Santini?

    A great movie; sorta like his bullet-proof in-country Apocalypse Now character, suddenly hit by kryptonite on the homefront.

    For induction into the Academy of the Over-rated, I nominate Nicholas Cage.

    and Kevin Costner.

    263 chars

  15. Peter said on August 21, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Hell yeah to Glengarry Glen Ross; I’d rank that Baldwin speech right up there with the DI from Full Metal Jacket.

    113 chars

  16. Danny said on August 21, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    That DI in Full Metal was priceless. Maybe my favorite scene in any movie. Ever.

    But, Peter, I think Alec Baldwin’s best speech was that phone message he left for his 12-year old daughter a few months ago. Now that was comedy gold…”you selfish little pig. I am going to get on a plane and come out there and straighten your ass out.”

    340 chars

  17. LA mary said on August 21, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    The first recruiting company I worked for was just like GGR. We had Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin and definitely Alec Baldwin.

    124 chars

  18. brian stouder said on August 21, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    By the way, I loved Heat the first 2 or 3 times I saw it, too; a very stylized movie.

    But it immediately struck me that those two chuckleheads who robbed a bank in LA with full-body kevlar and automatic weapons were simply aping that movie….. which lead me to re-think that movie.

    De Niro’s crew was really quite inept, yes? Despite Pacino’s (and Voight’s) character’s boundless admiration of De Niro’s crew’s craftsmanship, everything those guys touch ends up going horribly wrong, beginning when they hastily hire a reckless new crew guy who botches up the armored-car caper, and continuing through one cataclysmic mistake after another.

    Didn’t the Miami Vice guy make that movie? Stylized violence and compelling music cover a lot of logical lapses, for awhile

    775 chars

  19. Dorothy said on August 21, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Danny, I am just a lowly community theater actress, with very little experience compared to the big guns we’re discussing here. But I do think that some roles are easier “fits” than others. THat may have been the case of TM for Mr. Duvall. Personally I loved the quietness of that performance – I think it spoke volumes, to be honest, of the kind of relationship he had with his new wife, and what he went through to get to that point in his life. (alcoholism, divorce, lost contact with his daughter) All of that was simmering under the surface, but he found a new quiet lifestyle with Rosalie and Sonny. I thought he showed someone who learned to embrace simplicity after the wild life he’d had before that. We get the idea that he evolved as a person an awful lot after seeing Dixie, the nasty way she treated him, and then seeing the respect he got from those young guys in town who wanted to perform with him.

    My favorite part of that movie, what breaks my heart everytime I see it, is after his daughter comes to see him. SHe asks him if he remembers a song he used to sing to her, something about a snow white dove. He tells her he can’t remember it. But after she leaves, he goes to the window, and slowly starts to sing the song. You just know that it would have killed him to sing it in front of her, because he would be thinking of all the time he lost and could have been spending it with her, if only he’d not been a drinking fool.

    I own the soundtrack to that movie – I think it’s the last “album” I ever bought! I was so disappointed that Betty Buckley did not perform her songs on it. I think there were contract differences and she was not given permission to appear on the record.

    1716 chars

  20. Danny said on August 21, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Yes. On the Wings of a Dove. That was my favorite scene too. Great song of faith.

    84 chars

  21. GMan said on August 21, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I second the Nicolas Cage nomination. Every time I see that guy cast in an action movie, I just cringe. He comes across as a big wimp to me so his action roles just seem kind of funny. Con Air is the perfect example….and that awful fake Southern accent…UGH!

    264 chars

  22. Peter said on August 21, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Yes, but don’t you have to give Nicholas Cage a pass because of Raising Arizona? That was on again yesterday, and I still can’t stop laughing when I see that film!

    164 chars

  23. nancy said on August 21, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Cage gets a pass for “Raising Arizona” and another movie I was pleasantly surprised by, “Lord of War.” The rest of his catalog just gives me heartburn, with the possible exception of “Leaving Las Vegas.” And yes, I hated “Moonstruck,” too.

    He had some nice moments with Shirley Maclaine in “Guarding Tess,” but Shirley can make almost anyone look good.

    355 chars

  24. LA mary said on August 21, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Raising Arizona is another top ten fave, and Nicholas Cage is perfect in it. He earns a pass from me. He was good in Matchstick Men, I thought.

    143 chars

  25. john c said on August 21, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    I’d agree with Alan. But I have notoriously bad judgment when it comes to movies. I will say this, though. I sort of liked Pacino in Donnie Brasco.

    And I used to think Nicholas Cage was one of my favorites. Then I started watching more than just Raising Arizona over and over.

    279 chars

  26. Danny said on August 21, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    One Nick Cage movie we thought was okay: Face Off. I know. Not the greatest movie, but it had it’s moments.

    109 chars

  27. brian stouder said on August 21, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Well, I would have nominated Joe Pesci as a shining example of an idiot savant actor (who plays only one character, albeit exceedingly well) – but he makes no pretensions; he IS a character actor, and not a leading man.

    But on the other end of the scale, Peter Sellers is an easily over-looked actor with a surprising range. How many actors’ lives would make as good a movie as The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (caught that on IFC a month or two ago, and enjoyed it).

    Come to think of it, Chelize Theron (whose name I probably just butchered), who is in that movie, is an amazingly wide-ranged actor.

    I always thought Spencer Tracy was over-rated; Marilyn Monroe, too. Jimmy Stewart is marvelous, and Cary Grant – he’s simply the best. North by Northwest (an all-time fave) notwithstanding, watch Father Goose, a thoroughly good 1960’s Cary Grant movie that features a surprising performance by him

    912 chars

  28. LA mary said on August 21, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    I like him in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, as well as Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. He’s opposite Myrna Loy in both, and they are both elegant and charming.

    169 chars

  29. LA mary said on August 21, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    I’ve been threatening to buy my son a 1994 Taurus station wagon (in a lovely metallic teal shade) for his first car, but today we saw a maroon metallic Lumina! For 850.! He could have his own Babe Magnet, just like your son.
    My son said he could tell from just looking at the car that it smelled bad inside, and you know, it did look that way.

    354 chars

  30. Jeff said on August 21, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    LA Mary and Brian —

    You may be amused/bemused to know that Marines love the movie “The Great Santini.” There’s some kind of “yeah, we really can be morons, can’t we?” thing going on, but among other things, you just can wave a can of mushroom soup at a roomfull of aviators and have them in stiches.

    Semper Fi,

    324 chars

  31. basset said on August 21, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    didn’t see that one… what’s the mushroom soup about?

    54 chars

  32. Cynthia said on August 21, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    One of my favorite Al Pacino movies is “Insomnia.” I thought he was good. Another thing going for that movie was it was made by the same guy who made “Mememto.” A fabulous movie that I’ve watched many times.

    Anyway, I once saw BaBa WaWa interviewing Pacino while he was making Scent of a Woman. She remarked how he wasn’t looking at her while talking and when she said something he said it was because he liked to really get into his character so he was practicing being blind. I don’t know if we was her or not. I thought about that during Insomia because he truly looked like he hadn’t slept the whole time he was making it.

    643 chars

  33. Robert Rouse said on August 21, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    Way off topic here, but I just realized you might be a fan of the Small Faces – or at the very least, a fan of their song, “Itchycoo Park”.

    And now back to your regularly scheduled comments.

    193 chars

  34. velvet goldmine said on August 21, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    Way too much to respond to here! There are about 93 tangents just in the comments alone that I could really sink my teeth into.

    First, Alan — other than needing to tweak his timeline — is dead on about Pacino.

    Nicolas Cage has struck me as a sore-thumb actor ever since “Peggy Sue Got Married.” His style was surreal in a movie just not going for that vibe. He usually seems to be acting in a different film than the one he’s actually in, if that makes sense.

    I loved “Tender Mercies.” It’s always been one of those haunting movies for me, especially the scene Dorothy mentioned. If memory serves, that’s Ellen Barkin as the daughter, speak of the devil. There’s a Gene Hackman movie that takes place on the Gulf Coast that’s always linked in my mind with Tender Mercies, just sylistically. It’s called “Full Moon on Blue Water.” You might want to check it out, if you’ve never seen it, Dorothy.

    Laura, I mostly agree with you about Tom Cruise, but I’m wondering if you saw “Born on the Fourth of July”? I remember being very moved by his performance then, but I wonder if I might find it over the top now.

    Sorry to leapfrog, but y’all moved to fast for me!

    1180 chars

  35. Jeff said on August 21, 2007 at 10:12 pm

    Speaking of Marine Corps perverse favorite movies, Tom Cruise has never surpassed his performance in “Taps.” He plays, of course, a character that turns out to be quite insane. Either he was twelve when he made that movie, or he’s not quite candid about his age these days any more than he is about his height, or lack thereof.

    329 chars

  36. Garry said on August 21, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    “Heat” was made by the guy who did “Miami Vice”.
    Michael Mann ripped off his own made for TV movie “LA Takedown” for “Heat”
    Bizarrely, much of “LA Takedown” was filmed in Chicago.

    181 chars

  37. Dorothy said on August 22, 2007 at 7:12 am

    Yes Mary, our Babe Magnet never had a good smell. I used to try to hold my breath for short periods of time while driving it – which is not really a safe thing to do!

    Velvet the other scene in Tender Mercies that always gets to me is [SPOILER ALERT!!] towards the end, when Max goes to visit Dixie after Sueanne died, and Dixie’s in her bed, and goes into meltdown mode, screaming for her daughter. Tears me up so much!

    I too liked “Insomnia” and Al was good in it. So was Robin Williams, who was definitely NOT acting like Robin Williams in that movie. I have only seen “Memento” once but found it mesmerizing. I had never seen anything like it before. I remember watching it with my son when my husband first started his job in Cincinnati (we were in PA). I’ll have to rent or buy that sometime and watch it again, this time with Mike.

    Speaking of Mike, I think he’s nuts to like “Moonstruck” so much. But I think he likes Olympia Dukakis’s character the best. I really can’t stand Nic Cage. But I’ll have to give “Raising Arizona” another chance someday. I think the first time I watched it I was in a bad mood and hated it. Same thing happened the first time I saw “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” and now I really laugh at that movie. Clooney’s way of delivering his lines just cracks me up each time I see it.

    1334 chars

  38. Kirk said on August 22, 2007 at 7:23 am

    One more vote for “Tender Mercies.” Maybe it looked so easy because he’s so good.

    81 chars

  39. Jolene said on August 22, 2007 at 8:05 am

    This thread is prompting me to revise my Netflix queue.

    55 chars

  40. Michael said on August 22, 2007 at 10:07 am

    I love Nicholas Cage. You’re right, velvet, he’s always acting in a different movie than the one he’s in, that kind of blank look of resigned acceptance of the outré that made Raising Arizona so damned good (and Lord of War). If there’s no outré to resignedly accept, he still does it, so it’s a little jangling — but for those of us who kind of tend to see life that way anyway, I think it resonates. Does with me, at any rate.

    Puerto Ricans love Scarface, for some reason. (Cause it’s a Latino-in-the-States movie, I guess.) There are Scarface stickers, T-shirts, whatever. I don’t get the attraction.

    615 chars

  41. ashley said on August 22, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    I avoided watching The Devil’s Advocate for a long time, because I thought: oh good, an excuse for Pacino to overact. I was right.

    Loved the Great Santini, and let me plug “Belizaire the Cajun”. Duvall is in it only briefly, but he bankrolled the film.

    259 chars